Equine Medical Director Blea Placed on Administrative Leave by UC Davis

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Dr. Jeff Blea | AAEP

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Jeff Blea, California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director, has been placed on administrative leave by UC Davis pending a formal review of his veterinary license, according to Blea's attorney, George Wallace.

The story was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The California Veterinary Medical Board last week announced that an emergency hearing had resulted in an interim suspension of Blea's veterinary license for a number of alleged offenses, including purportedly administering “dangerous drugs” to racehorses without a prior examination, without forming a diagnosis and without medical necessity.

The veterinary board also claims that Blea presents a “danger to public health, safety and welfare,” due to his oversight of the high-profile investigation into the death of the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit (Protonico), the Kentucky Derby winner who collapsed and died after a scheduled workout on Dec. 6 at Santa Anita.

A TDN investigation into the accusations leveled against Blea, however, found a broad consensus among veterinary medical experts that the infractions are largely matters of poor record-keeping which rarely, if ever, rise to the level of a suspended license.

Though the role of the equine medical director has not historically been contingent upon having an active veterinary license, the CHRB responded to Blea's emergency interim suspension by bringing in the executive associate dean of UC Davis's School of Veterinary Medicine, John Pascoe, to oversee the necropsy of Medina Spirit.

This, the CHRB said, “satisfies the VMB's stated reason for filing the temporary suspension petition and therefore requires it to consider its withdrawal.”

A formal hearing on the veterinary board's petition for an interim suspension of Blea's license is scheduled for Jan. 21

The equine medical director is first appointed by the dean of UC Davis. The CHRB then contracts with the university for the appointee's services.

According to Scott Chaney, the CHRB executive director, “if the [Equine Medical Director] was on administrative leave, UC Davis would appoint an interim person or persons to fulfill these statutory regulatory roles of the EMD, and we would amend our contract to reflect that.”

In response to questions about who UC Davis might appoint during Blea's administrative leave, a UC Davis spokesperson wrote that “UC Davis has sufficient personnel to ensure that the obligations of the position are fulfilled.”

As part of the TDN's investigation into the accusations leveled against Blea, Eric Peterson, former member of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Board, told the TDN that had he been presented with the same set of accusations, he would have recommended issuing a fine of “at most” $100.

“I was on the Kentucky vet board for 10 years. This would be minimal,” Peterson said. “We might not even fine him for this.”

According to Brian Langlois, former president of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, while from a purely public perception standpoint, “there probably is some merit” in the veterinary board's argument to remove Blea from overseeing the Medina Spirit investigation, there appears no obvious conflicts of interest that might preclude him from the task.

“I would think there would be more merit to their argument if he was the one physically doing the necropsy or physically running the drug tests, or physically collecting the samples from Medina Spirit after his death,” says Langlois. “But from what I understand, he isn't.”

The equine medical director is the “primary advisor to the board on all matters related to medication and drug testing, the practice of veterinary medicine within the areas regulated by the board, and the health and safety of horses within the enclosure,” wrote former CHRB equine medical director, Rick Arthur, in a letter to Lourdes Castro Ramírez, secretary of the California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.

In the letter to Castro Ramírez–secretary of the agency under which both the veterinary board and the CHRB sit–Arthur calls the actions by the veterinary board a “political hit-job.”

As such, Arthur urges Castro Ramírez to have inside counsel “review the obscene accusations against Dr. Blea and the politics behind their over-the-top accusations. Something needs to change at CVMB. This is a travesty for an exceptionally professional and ethical person.”

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