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Virtually Human Studio

Virtually Human Studio (VHS), a platform used to virtually race horses using NFTs, has raised a $20 million Series A round from The Chernin Group, with participation from Andreessen Horowitz and Red Beard Ventures.

Why it matters: The company's virtual horse racing platform, called "ZED RUN," has created a new model for horse racing that enables participants to not only bet on their horses 24/7, but also own the horses as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), or put more simply — digital assets.

  • “What the team at Virtually Human Studio is building fundamentally alters what it means to be a fan," said Jacob Smilovitz, vice president at TCG, in a statement. "Fans are now empowered to come down from the bleachers, become owners themselves and play an active role in determining the outcome of the game.”

How it works: The platform, which runs on blockchain technology, allows horse racing fans to engage more deeply in the horse-racing process, from breeding their own virtual horses to selling or betting on them.

  • The horses themselves are considered “breathable" NFTs, which carry a set of attributes that allow them to change over time.
  • The attributes include fatigue and race track preference, as well as genetic profiles like bloodline and breed that help determine how well the virtual horses race and breed.
  • Real money is spent with virtual racing. Like regular NFTs, there’s a limited supply of ZED RUN Genesis racehorses ranging from $130 to $45,000. Horses have traded for over $125,000 on the secondary market. Whole stables can sell for over $250,000.
  • ZED RUN itself doesn't take bets but users can make money by breeding and racing their own horses. VHS takes a fee from breeding and race revenue.

Details: VHS is incorporated in Australia, but has 50 employees that work remotely around the globe. The company was founded by Chris Laurent and Rob Salha in 2019. ZED RUN is VHS' first big platform product. To date, the company has more than 125,000 connected users with 14,000+ unique stable owners.

The big picture: ZED RUN shows ways blockchain can take industries to new heights. The tech not only allows consumers to participate in the horse racing experience 24/7, but they are also able to participate in events themselves as horse owners and breeders.

  • Blockchain has been used to revolutionize many other markets, such as cryptocurrency, and it's just now starting to be used to change the entertainment, sports and gaming industries.

Bottom line: "The market opportunity here is huge," says VHS co-founder Rob Salha.

  • It "moves horse racing from a sport dictated by physical limitations to one unbound and virtual," he added.
  • "This means more races, more owners, more spectators, more upside to all that want to be involved. It makes horse racing a 24/7 sport."
  • "And we think there’s an opportunity to bring this same concept to many areas of sports and entertainment far beyond horse racing."

Go deeper

DHS temporarily suspends use of horse patrol in Del Rio

U.S. Border Patrol agents watch as Haitian immigrant families cross the Rio Grande from Mexico into Del Rio, Texas on Sept. 23, 2021. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Thursday temporarily suspended the use of horse patrol in Del Rio, Texas a DHS spokesperson confirmed.

Why it matters: The suspension comes after images showing border patrol agents reportedly whipping at and charging their horses at migrants surfaced earlier in the week, prompting widespread criticism of the Biden administration's handling of the crisis at the border.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."