Blea’s License Suspension Upheld; CHRB Equine Medical Director Remains On Leave

Judge Nana Chin has upheld the veterinary license suspension of California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director Jeff Blea, reports the Los Angeles Times. The news follows last Friday’s formal hearing of the California Veterinary Medical Board’s petition for his interim suspension, and Blea remains on leave from his position with the CHRB.

Blea is facing eight causes for discipline, according to formal “accusation” documents issued in late December. Blea’s veterinary license was suspended at an emergency meeting held on Christmas Eve. He has not been operating his racetrack practice since taking the job of equine medical director last summer.

Blea was placed on administrative leave in mid-January. Drs. Heather Knych and Ashley Hill have been named acting equine medical directors and will perform the statutory functions of the Equine Medical Director.

“The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is aware the interim order of suspension of Dr. Jeff Blea’s veterinary license has been upheld and is monitoring the situation as the legal process moves forward,” Amy Quinton, a UC Davis spokesperson, told the LA TImes. “At this time, Dr. Blea remains on administrative leave. The School of Veterinary Medicine continues to fulfill its duties to provide equine medical director services for the CHRB.”

Blea has also been removed from his role overseeing the investigation into the death of Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, who dropped dead after completing a workout at Santa Anita. The equine medical director is not responsible for actually performing necropsies or testing biological samples on horses who die in racing or training in California or elsewhere. Those responsibilities go to veterinary pathologists and toxicologists — in California, those duties are contracted to UC-Davis, though some samples have been shipped outside California in this particular case. The equine medical director would be responsible for gathering reports and interpreting them for presentation to the board and to the public.

No date has been set for a hearing into the eight charges, but the LA Times suggests that normal circumstances could see the CHRB without an equine medical director for up to a year.

The CHRB remains steadfast in it’s support of Blea, releasing the following statement after it’s Jan. 20 meeting.

“The commissioners of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) unanimously agreed in closed session Jan. 20 on their support and confidence in Dr. Jeff Blea to continue in his role as the CHRB’s Equine Medical Director (EMD) as he deals with the accusation filed against him by the California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB), which has resulted in an emergency temporary suspension of his veterinary license.

“The commissioners and Executive Director Scott Chaney are optimistic that the interim suspension hearing held on Jan. 21 will overturn this initial decision. However, regardless of the outcome, Dr. Blea has their full support and confidence to continue in his role as EMD throughout the full adjudication process.

“The commissioners are further committed to pursue appropriate legal avenues to protect the authority of the board, as well as preserve the contract with UC Davis, which appointed Dr. Blea as the Equine Medical Director for the CHRB.”

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

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