07/09/2002 11:00PM

Harthill resigns, citing clashes

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Dr. Alex Harthill, the controversial veterinarian, resigned on Wednesday as president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, ending a tumultuous tenure at the head of one of the most influential trainers' groups in the country.

Harthill, 77, cited a number of clashes with the KHBPA's board of directors for his decision. The board recently voted to reinstate the KHBPA's executive director, Marty Maline, and to end an investigation into possible conflicts of interest involving Maline. Harthill had objected to both decisions.

"I am taking this action because I feel that as a result of recent events I have no alternative," Harthill wrote in a resignation letter that was sent on Wednesday. "Recent decisions of the board of directors have been made against my advice and, in my opinion, not in the best interest of the members of the association."

Reached on Wednesday morning, Harthill said: "I don't want to be some mollycoddle."

Harthill was elected president in August 2000 to a three-year term, and he led the Kentucky HBPA into an increasingly isolationist position in the industry, especially on the topic of medication reform. A veterinarian who has worked at Kentucky racetracks for 54 years, Harthill was a leading advocate of liberal medication rules and a staunch supporter of Kentucky's permissive drug policy.

Some members of the Kentucky HBPA had recently begun quietly to criticize Harthill, especially after the veterinarian said in an April article in the Daily Racing Form that he had deliberately doped horses, including Northern Dancer in the 1964 Kentucky Derby.

Member's of the horsemen's board reached on Wednesday morning said that Harthill had not yet informed anyone of his decision to resign. But they said they would support his decision.

"Me and Doc have been on opposite sides of the fence on a lot of things, but I always respected him," said Robert DeSensi, a director who had criticized Harthill's comments about drugging horses. "I think he tried to do as good as he could do, and he put his heart and soul into it."

Susan Bunning, the KHBPA's vice president, said she would ask the board to consider voting for a new president to serve out Harthill's term.

"We've had a lot of difficult times over the past six months, and I was very pleased with the way that the board has made the necessary changes to run this like a business, and I liked the way they took control," Bunning said. "So I'd rather see us come to an agreement on someone on an interim basis than just having me take the position."

In his letter, Harthill disputed the contention that the board had improved the KHBPA's standing. "While I hope the association survives and thrives," Harthill wrote, "my first concern is that the board is moving in the opposite direction."

The investigation into Maline was called by Harthill after the National HBPA launched an investigation into Century Consultants, a company founded in 1999 by three HBPA members, including Maline. The company received more than $100,000 in consulting fees from the Choctaw Indian Tribe in Oklahoma from 1999-2001. At the same time, the Choctaw Tribe was also paying the National HBPA for similar services.

Ray Cottrell, a KHBPA board member, said that he disagreed with Harthill about the need for the internal investigation after he had reviewed the HBPA's books earlier this year. He said he could find only $2,000 in expenses that could be considered questionable in regards to the conflict of interest investigation. "These weren't even out-of-pocket expenses," Cottrell said. "It was maybe some travel, some phone calls, some stamps."

Cottrell also said that Joseph Cohen, an attorney Harthill hired to conduct the investigation, had already charged the HBPA $30,000 before the board decided to pull the plug.

"If we had continued with the investigation, it would have cost us close to $100,000," Cottrell said. "We don't have that kind of money. Not for that. And for what? To find out if $2,000 may have been misspent?"

At the same meeting in which the directors voted to end the investigaton, the board also voted to change the bylaws so that any expenditure over $1,000 had to be approved by the board. Before that, the president had free rein to sign off on expenses.

According to some board members, there was an effort to impeach Harthill in May. But a vote never came up, the members said, when supporters of the move realized that they did not have enough support.