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KHRC hires interim racing vet

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has hired a Kansas veterinarian as interim chief racing vet, filling the position left open by the resignation of Dr. Lafe Nichols on Friday.

Dr. Bryce Peckham, who has been the chief racing vet for the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission for the past 12 years, will fill the post in an interim capacity while the KHRC conducts a national search for a permanent replacement for Nichols, according to the news release announcing Peckham's hiring. The process is expected to take three to six months.

Peckham starts work Oct. 14 for an annual salary of $100,000, according to Public Protection Cabinet spokesman Jim Carroll. In the meantime, KHRC equine medical director Dr. Mary Scollay will oversee veterinary regulatory matters.

"We are delighted to have someone with Bryce's experience in racing regulatory issues taking on this demanding position," said Lisa Underwood, KHRC executive director, in the release. "His background makes him an ideal choice to take over at this critical juncture."

Peckham is on the American Association of Equine Practitioners' practice group of racing regulatory vets. He also participated in the Grayson-Jockey Club's racehorse safety summit held in March at Keeneland. Before becoming the chief racing vet for the state of Kansas, which has Thoroughbred, quarter horse and greyhound racing, Peckham was the senior track vet for The Woodlands race course in Kansas City. He is a 1988 graduate of Kansas State University.

Nichols abruptly resigned Friday; he did not give a reason in his resignation letter. Racing commission officials would not say whether Nichols was asked to resign. His letter said only, "I am resigning my position as Chief, State Racing Veterinarian, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Public Protection Cabinet, effective close of business today, September 26, 2008."

Nichols was questioned at the racing commission's Sept. 22 meeting about the lack of testing this summer at Ellis Park for "milkshaking." Milkshaking involves illegally force-feeding a horse a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and other ingredients to offset the lactic acid that builds up in its muscles during a race. To test for it, regulators measure the level of carbon dioxide in a horse's system. But that testing was not done at Ellis Park this summer, Nichols told the commission, because his office lacked the staff. Instead, Nichols said, they focused on addressing heat-stress problems.