How Horse Racing Is Adapting To Digitisation
The sound of hooves pounding the grass, the call of the loudspeaker as the results are announced, the quiet moments before the horses set off. These are amongst the things that characterise a day at the races for many.
Whether a jockey or trainer, a fan or pundit, a day at the races is special, it’s an event to behold, whether that’s a general race meeting at one of the UK race tracks or a big event such as Royal Ascot. Surely, there’s no way that can be affected by the digital revolution, can it?
As it turns out, yes, it can. Like many other sports, horse racing is being disrupted by digital technology. We’re not talking about photo finishes or advances in training; we’re talking about cryptocurrency, NFTs, and fan tokens. These commodities are groundbreaking and slowly moving on the horse racing scene.
Ryan Lenaham is a horse racing fan; he saw his first Kentucky Derby as an eight-year-old, and he now spends his days breeding horses, racing, and collecting winnings. You won’t have seen any of his steeds in action; they don’t actually exist. Ryan is one of more than 100,000 people who own a digital racehorse on the platform Zed Run, an Ethereum-backed NFT experience different from a standard video game. Ryan buys his horse, and at that point, he owns it; they’re a digital asset that he can increase in value and sell.
The races might be virtual, but Ryan explains they could perhaps one day form a part of a real race day. “One thing I’ve always thought about is that it would be kind of cool is what if we had races in between races?”
Whilst that seems some way off, other forms of digital assets are perhaps not quite as far in the future as you’d imagine. The concept of tokenisation is growing within other sports and could come to horse racing in several forms. You may have heard of fan tokens if you’re a football fan; backed by the cryptocurrency Chiliz, they offer digital influence over your team. Many big clubs, such as Manchester City and Arsenal, have fan tokens, and in return for their investment, buyers get to vote on club matters and access unique content and experiences. They’re so popular the platform behind them, Socios is seeking to branch out into the US market.
Two practical applications of tokens within the horse racing sector become immediately obvious. The first is taking the idea and moving it across literally; you buy a token for your favourite trainer, stable, or jockey and get unique experiences built around that; perhaps you could choose the jockey’s jersey or the colours the horse comes out in. You might even get to vote on the name of the latest horse to join a stable.
However, tokenisation could have a second application within horse racing that is unique; it could be used to revolutionise horse ownership. By tokenising a horse’s ownership, it could lower the threshold for investors with little capital but a desire to own a horse. The token would depict a certain share of the horse, and if the horse went up in value, so would the tokens. There would be no ambiguity over ownership either; backed by blockchain, it is a reliable method of spreading ownership around a group of people, be it digital influence as we’ve seen in football or ownership of a physical asset such as a racehorse.
These are just two ways the latest digital technology is set to impact horse racing. You might not notice the changes the next time you’re watching on at Lingfield or cheering on your pick at Market Rasen, but a change could come over the next few years.