05/13/2002 12:00AM

Vote likely on Harthill removal


Directors of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association were scheduled to hold a board meeting on Monday night to discuss allegations of impropriety among HBPA officials and the possible removal of president Alex Harthill, HBPA directors and racing officials said Monday.

Although an official agenda had not been distributed as of Monday morning, directors said they expected to vote on whether to remove Harthill, who is 77 and was elected in August 2000.

On Monday, Harthill said he doubted that the directors would even take a vote. "I think that's just wishful thinking on some people's parts," Harthill said. "There seems to be some dissension on how things are going, and I just hope that I am pleasantly surprised."

The association has been embroiled in several controversies since Harthill took over. Late last year, at Harthill's urging, the organization was one of the few that refused to endorse a movement to reform national drug policies, inviting criticism from other leading national groups.

Then, just weeks ago, Harthill suspended the organization's longtime executive director, Marty Maline, after calling for an in-house investigation into a possible conflict of interest. The investigation is also exploring conflicts of interest involving former Kentucky HBPA president Rick Hiles and former general counsel Don Sturgill.

"I think it's about time to get a lot things ironed out," said Robert Holthus, a director who has been on the board of various state HBPA affiliates for 35 years. He declined to talk specifically about the Harthill vote. "There's a lot of things that have been going on that a lot of the membership doesn't know anything about. It's time to clean the slate and start anew."

Some directors have said that Harthill, a longtime backstretch veterinarian in Kentucky who is an outspoken proponent of medication, has become an unwelcome focal point for criticism of the organization. Controversy over his tenure intensified in late April when he repeated in an article in Daily Racing Form that he had deliberately doped horses.

"That was a terrible article, the one where he bragged about hopping horses," said director Robert DeSensi, a Kentucky-based trainer. DeSensi would not comment further on his position on Harthill's removal.

Ray Cottrell, a Kentucky horse owner who is a director of the group, said on Monday that he has "complete confidence" in Harthill, but said he would abide by the vote of the directors.

"At the end of tonight, if Doc Harthill is still president, which I believe he will be, then we should support him and let him get on with it," Cottrell said. "If not, then we need to put the right changes in place and support that."