- Associated Press - Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Kentucky Horse Park’s governing body on Thursday hired a new executive director to lead the popular tourist attraction in an ongoing shakeup of the park.

The selection of horse industry veteran Laura Prewitt comes after a top Republican lawmaker criticized the park’s management earlier this year. State Auditor Mike Harmon has said his office will review operations and financial activities at the 1,224-acre park in Kentucky’s bluegrass region.

Prewitt said her goal is to maintain the park’s status as a premier equine facility, while enhancing its reputation among tourists.

In choosing Prewitt, the horse park’s commission decided not to renew the contract of the park’s current executive director, Jamie Link. Prewitt assumes the job starting July 1.

Earlier this week, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin abolished the prior Horse Park Commission and replaced it with another one. In reducing the number of members to 15 from 17, Bevin reappointed five members and left two seats vacant.

Bevin did not reappoint former first lady Jane Beshear. She was appointed by her husband, former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear before he left office in December.

Link served as Steve Beshear’s deputy chief of staff before taking the horse park job. He said in an interview Thursday that he would do whatever he could to ensure a smooth transition.

Link said he was leaving the park “in better shape than I found it.”

“I think with the new commission, they felt there should be a change in leadership,” he said. “I certainly appreciate and respect that. Our only goal should be … the success of the park.”

Tandy Patrick, the horse park commission’s chairwoman, said Prewitt was “uniquely qualified” for the executive director’s job, citing her business and horse industry background.

State Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Don Parkinson said Prewitt’s business and equine expertise would be an asset for the park. He also thanked Link for his service.

Prewitt recently served as executive director of the Breeders’ Cup Festival in Lexington. She previously served as director of operations and general manager of Kentucky Off-Track Betting.

Link’s stewardship of the horse park drew criticism earlier this year from state Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer. Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he had heard complaints about low staff morale and political patronage as well as increased fees to stage equine events at the horse park or to stay at its campgrounds.

Link told lawmakers he fixed problems exposed in an audit of the park covering a period before his arrival.

Harmon has said his office’s examination of the horse park would review fiscal years 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Prewitt said Thursday she was not concerned by the audit.

“I do not think that there’s anything that’s going to be alarming or improper that is going to be found,” she said.

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