John Asher, one of the most recognizable faces and voices associated with Churchill Downs and horse racing at large, died suddenly Monday morning of a heart attack while vacationing with his family in Orlando. Asher was 62-years-old.
Asher had served as a spokesperson for Churchill Downs since 1997, most recently holding the title of the track’s vice president of racing communications. The Associated Press named Asher the “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Kentucky seven times. He received the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners’ Warner L. Jones Jr. Horseman of the Year award in 2006, and as a radio personality before working for Churchill, he won the Eclipse Award for audio presentation five times — 1988, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994.
Through family connections and horse racing ties, I knew John fairly well before starting this site and beginning the full-time gig in radio. Growing up, he had always struck me as genuinely kind, not someone in a high-profile position who was attempting to put on a good show for the sake of appearance. The last few years confirmed all those youthful suspicions.
I’m not sure I’ve ever known a nicer human being than John Asher. One of my favorite annual gags on the radio was trying to get him to admit during Preakness week that “Maryland, My Maryland” is an awful song. Even though he knew every year that the question was only 10 percent serious (it’s a bad song), he would never bite. Instead, he would launch into a five-minute filibuster about the beauty of respective traditions and their importance in the realm of horse racing and modern existence.
He saw no need to be negative ever, even if it was just for fun. He was the best.
No one in the world loved the Kentucky Derby more than John Asher, and next May won’t be the same without him. You will be sorely missed, my friend.