Jeff Blea is reinstated as the CHRB’s equine medical director

Dr. Jeff Blea has had a lot of time trying to figure out what happened to him over the past year as he took his daily four to six mile walks around the Rose Bowl, mainly listening to Eric Church, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp.

“They tell stories about life,” Blea said. “Everyone goes through things in life and the goal is to get out of it better.”

Blea hopes the song lyrics will reflect her reality when she returns to work Wednesday as the California Horse Racing Board’s Equine Medical Director (EMD) after negotiating a deal with the California Veterinary Medical Board (VMB). Blea has been on paid administrative leave since January 11 after the VMB suspended his license accusing him of multiple violations, many of which were nothing more than bookkeeping errors when he was in private practice.

Blea will be on probation for three years, will have to undergo ongoing record-keeping training and pay the VMB $ 131,464 over a 30-month period in reimbursement for the cost of the investigation. As an EMD, Blea has moved from the world of the practicing vet to the regulatory vet, which means he no longer sees horses as clients.

He technically works for UC Davis, from which the CHRB contracts its services.

Blea’s case was baffling to most of the California horse racing community, as the infractions he is accused of rarely resulted in a suspended license. Additionally, the CHRB and VMB are under the same government umbrella as the Agency for Business, Consumer Services and Housing, but the CHRB was never informed of alleged infringements by its chief equine doctor during the investigation.

“The fact that the veterinary council decided to suspend the license was unheard of,” Blea said. “Evidently there is an agenda there. If I hadn’t been EMD, I wouldn’t have been suspended. “

There are six other vets in Southern California and three in Northern California who have charges against them, but none have been suspended from their license.

Blea is suspicious as to why he believes he was targeted but, for now, he is unwilling to name names or discuss reasons.

The VMB, in response to The Times, acknowledged via a spokesperson that Blea has “an agreement entered into and authorizes Dr. Blea to practice the medicine on a three-year trial period with various terms and conditions. He did not add any further information. on any of the charges, conditions or terms.

However, despite his world having been turned upside down in the past nine months, Blea remains upbeat and positive.

“On the plus side it has allowed me to spend more time with my family, my wife, my two daughters and two dogs. (The springer spaniels named Ross and Rizzo in honor of the Chicago Cubs players.) “Blea said.” I have to go to all their school functions and sporting events: softball and cross country.

“I went to college with my daughter. Normally I wouldn’t be able to do that. Personally, it was very nice to have time to spend with the family ”.

It’s not that Blea hasn’t kept up with the industry. You have also watched large amounts of competitions on television and checked Equibase and industry publications daily.

“You have to approach things proactively,” Blea said. “I kept up with things through the industry press. I attended [remotely through audiocast] the CHRB meetings as a member of the public. It has allowed me to keep up with current events, especially in California. I also found myself reading many diaries.

“I also spent time fixing things, painting and building things. Things I’ve put off for the past 30 years. It was important to stay mentally and physically active. Despite being so busy, it was so frustrating ”.

“Now that I’m a civil servant, I have an ‘X’ on my back, and they’ve got it. But I have my dignity and I can sleep at night. “

– Jeff Blea, CHRB’s equine medical director

Blea was trying to find out why there was an increase in “sudden deaths”, often associated with cardiac events, when his license was suspended.

“I definitely want to continue with that,” Blea said. “I want to go back to work because there are a lot of things I want to do. I would like to keep moving forward with safety regulations to make racing safer and better. I want to work with HISA [Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority] and help the transition so that the program is accepted. “

HISA hopes to become fully integrated nationally on January 1 when its drug rules go into effect.

“Something good has to come from my situation,” Blea said. “Perhaps there may be some collaborative interactions between the veterinary council and the CHRB. Without it, it could negatively affect how vets treat horses on the track and on the track. Without it, what loses is the horse.

“There has to be an understanding of equine practice. Practitioners must be able to care for horses properly without fear of losing their license. Let’s talk about the problems and find a solution. Practitioners want to conform ”.

This is not a new problem in equine medicine. Dr Rick Arthur, who retired as a longtime EMD and was replaced by Blea, has often spoken about how the rules relating to veterinary practice are better suited to those who treat dogs and cats as herd animals like horses.

Blea has left a lucrative private practice to take the EMD job, but despite the turmoil of the past year she doesn’t regret her decision.

“When all this happened, it didn’t make sense, and it still doesn’t make sense,” Blea said. “Now that I’m a civil servant, I have an ‘X’ on my back, and they’ve got it. But I have my dignity and I can sleep at night. I’m still the same person. I haven’t wondered at all why I got it [job].

“I’m going to get out on my feet and keep working to improve the industry and make it better for the participants and the horses.”

Blea has received ongoing support from CHRB and UC Davis throughout this process, along with many state and national veterinary organizations.

“Dr. Blea has dedicated his life to caring for horses,” said Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB. “I have known that he is a person of integrity, but more than that, the grace and professionalism he has shown during this ordeal is impressive.”

Blea’s first assignment on Wednesday is to meet with her probation officer at 9 am for a hiring hearing. She then plans to call John Pascoe, his boss at UC Davis, CHRB president Gregory Ferraro and Chaney to express his appreciation of him for their support. Then she will start calling the others to let them know that he is back.

Blea had a familiar refrain repeated often by people who have been through hard times.

“You really realize who your friends are. It was a good thing. “