Last year, we were featured in an ESPN online piece “Racing on the Edge.” After it came out, I took the network to task for what I saw as the piece’s many shortcomings. Part of my issue centered on the “other side’s” protagonist, veterinarian Jeff Blea. At the time, Mr. Blea was but a track vet; he was subsequently elevated to the lofty position of equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. Here is some of what the jockey-turned-vet Blea had to say:
“Everyone [vet, owners, trainers] is doing the same thing…what’s good for the horse.”
“Animal welfare is critically important to people…so with that cluster [at Santa Anita in 2019, which, of course, was no cluster at all] of injuries we had last year, I think it created those reforms such as medication reform, veterinary oversight, more involvement on a day to day basis.”
And: “But we can get close to [zero kills]. Every year, we can get closer to it, and a little closer the following year, and a little closer the following year. And if we keep doing that, that’s a good thing.”
Of course, Dr. Blea was, to put it kindly, being crafty: The horseracing industry is desperately engaged in self-preservation; “what’s good for the horse” is but a stratagem in the service thereof. Getting “close to zero kills” is impossible, and Blea and every one of his colleagues know it. In fact, the killing is not changing (“getting closer to zero”) at all; for proof, see our yearly lists. In short, Blea, his medical bona fides notwithstanding, simply played the part of industry mouthpiece, and anyone who does that is no friend to horses.
With that as backdrop, consider this: Monday, Dr. Blea had his vet license temporarily suspended by California’s Veterinary Medical Board. This comes after “accusation” (charging) documents were filed against Blea and two other vets just before Christmas. Here are some excerpts from the Board’s current petition:
“The records show Respondent Blea administered the same drugs for multiple horses with the same trainer consecutively at approximately the same time. Respondent Blea provided drugs to a large number of horses not based on a documented examination, diagnosis or medical necessity, but instead based on what the trainer requests.” (The Paulick Report says “that in a two-month span, Blea administered medications to 3,225 horses in 67 working days, for an average of 48 horses per day.”)
“The Board alleges that Respondent Blea administered medically unnecessary and non-FDA approved drugs to numerous racehorses. The Board’s findings and allegations established that racehorses are administered legal and illegal drugs to enhance performance in racing. Racing is not a medical condition or diagnosis. If Respondent Blea is allowed to continue his role in enforcement and investigations, his involvement alone will raise questions and will compromise the integrity of the drug testing program, the investigations, their findings, and their results due to the unquestionable conflict of interest.
“Veterinarians are prohibited from possessing or using any drug, substance, or medication that has not been approved by the FDA on the premises of a facility under the jurisdiction of CHRB. As an experienced veterinarian who has treated racehorses for over a decade, Respondent Blea should know and understand this regulation. Yet, on December 15, 2021, Respondent Blea announced that CHRB will begin a strict regulation of thyroxine, a thyroid medication, on January 1, 2022. Thyroxine…is not approved by the FDA, can cause cardiac arrhythmias, and squarely falls under the category of drugs prohibited by section 1867. Respondent Blea’s approval of prohibited veterinary practices proves that he cannot be trusted to be involved in any medication violation or death investigations.”
But here’s where it gets fun. The CHRB actually plans to keep the stripped-of-his-license Blea in his current position, which again is as the top racing vet in the state. At this juncture, is there anything more this vile industry can do to shock? On another note, how about a follow-up on your fallen star, ESPN? Not holding my breath.