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Racehorses get advanced, and pricey, medical care

Want to win this weekend's Kentucky Derby? Start with a fast horse, then add a pile of cash for medical expenses.

David Brancaccio: Tomorrow is the 138th Kentucky Derby and the death rate for horses in Thoroughbred racing has been in the spotlight.

Leslie Guttman of WEKU in Lexington, Kentucky has more on the money breeders are spending for veterinary care.


Leslie Guttman: From the ceiling of a surgery suite, an 800-pound thoroughbred dangles upside-down from a crane. It's knocked out under anesthesia. Dr. Katie Garrett of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital shows an intern where to inject a stem cell treatment.

Katie Garrett: See how we're going right into that gap in the bone? We're right in the fracture line? OK Sarah, we're good for the first one.

C-sections, throat surgery and MRI scans are common procedures now in the thoroughbred world.

Lane's End Farm near Lexington bred the 1999 Kentucky Derby winner Charismatic. The farm spent $2 million last year on vet care to remain a big player in thoroughbred racing. Farm manager Mike Cline says a stream of vets takes care of their horses.

Mike Cline: Medicine in Kentucky has evolved into more of a specialty thing.

For small-time owners, vet care adds up. Sarah Wells breeds a handful of mares and has one filly in training.

Sarah Wells: Stem cell therapies hyperbaric chambers. These are very effective, they're also very expensive.

Wells spends $10,000 to $12,000 a year on routine vet care. It's a lot on an income of $60,000 a year.

Wells: You sacrifice a lot. You don't do a lot of steak dinners and you don't drive fancy cars.

But everyone in the thoroughbred world dreams of winning a big race with a dark horse.

In Lexington, Ky., I'm Leslie Guttman for Marketplace.

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