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California Horse Racing Board removes Doctor from investigation into Medina Spirit’s death

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John Velazquez on Medina Spirit will compete in the 146th Preakness Stakes horse race at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday, May 15, 2021. (Nick Wass / AP)

The California Horse Racing Board has Dr. Jeff Blea removed from investigations into the death of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit in an attempt to quell the firestorm around its equine medical director. It is now being carried out by Dr. John Pascoe, Executive Associate Dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Blea will continue to serve as Medical Director for Horses, and the board hopes this move will bring some relief to the state veterinary agency, which temporarily suspended Blea’s license on Monday over concerns that he is overseeing the autopsy and examination of Medina Spirit .

On December 17, the VMB cited Blea with eight charges, mostly minor violations and inadequate records, but none related to Medina Spirit or evidence of a perceived conflict of interest. The violations allegedly happened while Blea was in a private practice before becoming medical director for horses on July 1, 2021.

In Monday’s decision, the administrative judge Nana Chin wrote that the VMB “prevented” [Blea’s] Participation, enforcement and investigation into sudden death of racehorses in CHRB facilities. “The VMB argued that”[t]The board’s mission is to protect consumers and animals through the regulation of licenses, the promotion of professional standards, and the careful enforcement of standards [Veterinary Medical Practice Act.]”

“Dr. Blea is an excellent veterinarian and an even better person,” said Scott Chaney, Executive Director of the CHRB. “He wakes up every day with an aim to make horses safer. This petition is hostile to those efforts.”

Efforts to get Blea out of the investigation surfaced Tuesday in a series of calls between CHRB officials and UC Davis, Blea’s employer, who in turn loan him to CHRB, according to two people who know but have not identified the situation wanted to be because of the sensitivity of the matter. On Wednesday, Blea was informed of the decision and should understand.

“In my opinion, the allegations against Dr. Blea is yet to be proven, and as such, he should be able to serve as the EMD until the final outcome of the charge against his license can be fully determined in the administrative process. “Said Dr. Greg Ferraro, chairman of the CHRB.

The story goes on

While details of Pascoe’s role are still being worked out, it is expected that he will seek help from other faculty members at UC Davis. UC Davis is consistently ranked the best veterinary school in the country and second in the world to the University of London’s Royal Veterinary College. UC Davis is also home to the Kenneth L. Maddy Laboratory, which does all testing for the CHRB.

Blea is the latest collateral damage in the controversy that has haunted Medina Spirit since May. The 3-year-old colt won the Kentucky Derby but tested positive for betamethasone, a legal anti-inflammatory that is just not legal on race day. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has yet to question the horse’s legitimacy as a winner or sanction its trainer, Bob Baffert. But Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, has Baffert banned for two years and the New York Racing Assn. also seeks to ban the coach for a number of drug violations.

Baffert’s lawyers claim that the horse was given an ointment to treat a rash on the hind quarters and that the zero tolerance policy only applied to interarticular injections, the traditional way of administering the drug.

Medina Spirit died after training in Sant Anita on December 6th. He was pronounced dead on the line, meaning there was no euthanasia and a sudden death. Most sudden deaths are cardiac related. A mandatory autopsy and examination is performed after each death at a CHRB facility.

This week-long saga with Blea was full of questions for answers, creating tension between the CHRB and the VMB, even though their main report is the same person, Lourdes Castro Ramírez, Secretary of the Agency for Business, Consumer Services and Housing.

It started when the CHRB was unaware of the investigation into Blea, which began last February, as the pre-trial screening process was underway. After the investigation was completed, the CHRB was unaware of the charges until they were posted on its website. Blea also appeared to be a target of the VMB when the regulator was only pursuing his license, despite not being a veterinarian with active clients. The other two vets accused at the same time were not heard, although they still have clients.

Jessica Sieferman, executive officer of the VMB, declined to speak to the Times and a spokeswoman had no answers to these questions, referring to an ongoing investigation.

The CHRB hopes this move will cause the VMB to reconsider its suspension of Blea’s license as the VMB’s main objection was that it was overseeing the investigation into Medina Spirit. The position of Medical Director for Horses does not require the individual to have a veterinary license, but the appearance of having an unlicensed medical director would be preferred by the CHRB.

The CHRB will deal with the Blea situation in a closed session at the end of the next scheduled board meeting on January 20th. Blea has a formal hearing at the VMB on January 21st about his license.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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