In Memory of John Asher (1955-2018)

Posted August 27, 2018
Updated August 28, 2018

John Asher, the popular head of racing communications at Churchill Downs and the friend of many a turf writer and broadcaster, died suddenly today at age 62. He was on vacation in Orlando, Florida.

Asher grew up in Leitchfield, Ky. After graduating from his beloved Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, he parlayed a bachelor’s degree in Journalism to a career that began in radio, a field in which he was named the winner of five Eclipse Awards. Asher lived in Louisville with his wife, Dee. Daughters Heather, Erin and Emma and grandsons Cameron and Caden also survive.

For more than 30 years, Asher was an ambassador for the sport we love. After working at WHAS and WAVE, where he brought national radio coverage of Thoroughbred racing to Louisville, he joined Churchill Downs in 1997 and served as Vice-President of Communications since 1999.

According to Churchill Downs, Asher's industry honors included the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners’ Warner L. Jones Jr. Horseman of the Year award in 2006; the Charles W. Engelhard Award for excellence in media coverage from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders; the Dean Eagle Award from the Knights of Columbus Bishop Spalding Council No. 2761; a media award from the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association; a National Headliner Award; a Scripps-Howard Award; and regional honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, Radio & Television News Directors Association and Kentucky Broadcasters Association.

Last but not least, Asher was honored seven times as Kentucky's Best Reporter by the Associated Press in the large market radio division.

In 2004 Asher was named Public Relations Practitioner of the Year by WKU's School of Journalism and Broadcasting. He was a former president of the WKU National Alumni Board of Directors and was honored by that group in 2008 with a Summit Award for volunteer efforts on behalf of the university.

Asher reached out to communities by serving on the boards of WLKY’s Spirit of Louisville Foundation,  GuardiaCare Services, Simmons College of Kentucky, Catholic Education Foundation, Presentation Academy, and the Kentuckiana Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International, the latter organization honoring him as Volunteer of the Year in 2004.

With all his honors, service to others and reputation in the Thoroughbred industry, Asher was perhaps best known for his larger-than-life, jovial personality and his love of the Kentucky Derby.

"John Asher to me was as much a part of the fabric of the Derby as all the great and all known traditions," said Tom Law President of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. "He was a friend to journalists around the world and always willing to help and offer advice to anyone covering his favorite race. It didn’t matter if it was your first time or your 30th, John treated everyone the same. What a loss for the game, the Derby, Churchill and Louisville. And most of all, I’m saddened at the loss of a great friend."

"His passion for the Kentucky Derby, horse racing, his WKU Hilltoppers, great music — and above all else his loving family — was genuine and infectious," said Kevin Flanery, President of Churchill Downs Racetrack. "Racing has lost an icon. I, and many others, have lost a kind and generous friend. We will miss John’s laugh, his unmistakable voice and his unique storytelling. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife Dee, his daughters Heather, Erin and Emma and his grandsons, Cameron and Caden."  

The Kentucky Derby Museum also issued this statement: “We at the Kentucky Derby Museum are deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of John Asher. His love of the Kentucky Derby and the Thoroughbred racing industry ran deep, as did his endless knowledge of the sport. His warmth and his energy was contagious and endearing. When you met John, you were instantly drawn into his dynamic personality. Once you knew him, he always remembered you and he always had the answer to the question, 'how many days until the next Derby?' He wore his passion for his work, his family and his community on his sleeve. We are sending our sincerest condolences to his wife, children and grandchildren during this difficult time. We will miss this great friend of the Kentucky Derby Museum.”

Plans for a memorial service will be finalized in the coming days.

By Dick Downey for NTWAB