CHRB equine medical director remains on leave after losing reinstatement hearing

Kentucky Derby entrant Medina Spirit works out at Churchill Downs in April 2021.
Kentucky Derby entrant Medina Spirit works out at Churchill Downs on April 28, 2021 in Louisville, Ky.
(Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

An administrative judge has upheld the suspension of the veterinary license of Dr. Jeff Blea, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board. It’s the latest turn in what seems to be a political battle between the California Veterinary Medical Board and the CHRB and could leave the state’s horse racing regulatory body without a full-time equine medical director for up to a year.

The denial of Blea’s reinstatement was by Nana Chin, the same administrative law judge who upheld her suspension of Blea’s license in an emergency hearing Dec. 24. The latest ruling followed a hearing on Jan. 21 with a determination issued last Friday. It was made public Wednesday on the Department of Consumer Affairs website.

No date has been set for a hearing into the charges, but it can take up to a year under normal circumstances. Attorneys for Blea have a few options left, including asking for a temporary restraining order, but nothing has been filed.

Blea said he had no comment at this time.

Blea has been accused of several minor violations, some little more than sloppy bookkeeping. They allegedly occurred while Blea was in private practice before becoming EMD on July 1 last year. At the heart of the alleged violations is the difference between equine veterinarians who routinely see the same and often multiple patients every day because horses are considered herd animals. It’s a different way of practicing than veterinarians who are in a building treating dogs, cats and other animals considered pets.

In the emergency hearing in December, the CVMB was concerned that Blea was overseeing the investigation into the death of Medina Spirit, the conditional Kentucky Derby winner who tested positive for a legal medication, but one that is not legal on race day. Medina Spirit died Dec. 6 after a workout of what was initially classified as sudden death, which is often associated with a heart attack. As is the case in every horse death in a CHRB-regulated facility, a necropsy and investigation is being performed. The results are expected soon.


The CHRB equine medical director, Jeff Blea, has been put on administrative leave after having his license temporarily suspended.

In the past, similar infractions have led to either a warning or fine. Previously, a spokesperson for the CVMB provided little clarity on the situation and Jessica Sieferman, executive officer of the CVMB, declined to talk to The Times.

In order to alleviate the CVMB’s concerns, the Medina Spirit investigation was handed over to Dr. John Pascoe, interim head of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Blea technically works for UC Davis and is assigned to the CHRB. It was originally thought that Blea could continue as equine medical director and that a veterinary license was not necessary, but a ruling from the deputy attorney general’s office disputed that belief and UC Davis put Blea on administrative leave.

“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,” said Amy Quinton a UC Davis spokesperson. “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.”

The CHRB amended its contract with UC Davis and Dr. Heather Knych and Dr. Ashley Hill were named as acting equine medical directors on a part-time basis. They will perform basic statutory functions of the EMD while Blea is on leave.

The CHRB offered its unanimous support of Blea in a statement after its Jan. 20 meeting.

“Dr. Blea has … full support and confidence to continue in his role as EMD throughout the full adjudication process,” the statement said. “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.”

Scott Chaney, executive director of the CHRB, when contacted, referred to the statement.