An administrative judge has upheld the suspension of the veterinary license of Dr Jeff Blea who is the Equine Medical Director (EMD) of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB). The same administrative judge, Nana Chin, has upheld her previous suspension of Blea’s license made during in an emergency hearing on December 24th, 2021. This latest ruling followed a hearing on Jan. 21 with a determination issued on Friday 28th January 2022. It was made public this Wednesday on the Department of Consumer Affairs website.
There is yet to be a date set for a hearing into the charges and, under normal circumstances, this can take up to a year. Blea’s attorneys have a few options left, including requesting a temporary restraining order, but as yet nothing has been filed.
The Los Angeles Times refers to this case as a potential “political battle” between the California Veterinary Medical Board and the CHRB which has the potential to leave the state’s horse racing regulatory body without a full time equine medical director for up to a year.
Blea has been put on administrative leave; he has said he has no comment to make at this time. Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB, declines to comment but continues to express his support for Blea. Adding fuel to the situation was the statement of Dr. Rick Arthur, who preceded Blea as EMD for 15 years.
Dr Arthur, in a letter to the Lourdes Castro Ramírez, secretary of the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, states “For a regulatory agency to use its enforcement powers against an individual licensee for political purposes is reprehensible. We would never consider such a thing at the CHRB.”
The accusations include several minor violations which, including inadequate bookeeping, which allegedly occurred whilst Blea was in private practice before becoming the EMD of CHRB. Central to these allegations is the difference between equine veterinarians who routinely attend to the same, and often multiple, animals every day because horses are considered herd animals. This differs significantly from veterinarians who work from a building treating dogs, cats and other ‘pet’ type animals.
At the December hearing, the California Medical Veterinary Board (CVMB), concerns were raised that Blea was overseeing the investigation of the death of Kentucky Derby winner, Medina Spirit, who tested positive for a legal medication, Betamethasone, that is illegal on race day in California. Medina Spirit died on December 6th 2021 after a workout which was initially classified as ‘sudden death’, a condition often associated with heart attack. A necropsy and investigation is underway, with results expected soon. The investigation has now been handed over to Dr John Pascoe, interim head of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
The Los Angeles times reports that Amy Quinto, a UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine spokesperson, has stated that the organisation is aware of the interim suspension of Blea’s veterinary license and it will continue to monitor the situation “as the legal process moves forward”.
PETA Senior Vice President, Kathy Guillermo, has issued a statement regarding Judge Nana Chin’s decision to uphold the veterinary license suspension of California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) Equine Medical Director Jeff Blea:
“If the allegations against Jeff Blea are found to be true, horses were harmed. The organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will be asking the district attorney to investigate Blea for possible violations of anti-cruelty laws, particularly regarding his alleged administration of a powerful thyroid medication to multiple horses without examining them. Blea was once quoted as saying, ‘In our practice, I think if we had half a dozen horses a year that we put on thyroxine that’s probably too many. Hypothyroidism is a pretty rare metabolic disease in the horse.’ Yet he is now alleged to have administered thyroxine to multiple horses well after the California Horse Racing Board tightened the rules on the medication, following the deaths in 2011 to 2013 of seven Bob Baffert–trained horses, all of whom had been given thyroxine. Ignoring veterinary regulations, racing rules, and the welfare of horses must not be tolerated.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment or abuse in any other way”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.