This post has been updated with comment from Churchill Downs.
John Asher, 62, the former journalist and spokesman for Churchill Downs, has died of an apparent heart attack, Churchill Downs confirmed Monday afternoon. Asher was in Florida on a family vacation.
“To say that racing has lost one of its giants with the passing of John Asher does not begin to capture the impact this man has had and will continue to have on the Churchill Downs family,” Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack, said in a news release. “His passion for the Kentucky Derby, horseracing, his WKU Hilltoppers, great music, and above all else his loving family was genuine and infectious.
“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,” Flanery continued. “Our hearts and prayers are with his wife Dee, his daughters Heather, Erin and Emma and his grandsons, Cameron and Caden.”
Plans are being finalized for a memorial service, which could take place as early as next week.
Daily Racing Forum, which first reported the news, said Asher was “gifted with a remarkably deep and soothing voice” and became a highly visible spokesman for the track, serving as moderator for numerous functions, most notably the annual postposition draw for the Kentucky Derby.
According to his Churchill Downs biography, Asher worked in the Thoroughbred racing industry as an award-winning journalist and publicist for more than 30 years. As a radio journalist at WHAS-AM and WAVE-AM in Louisville, Asher earned five Eclipse Awards for “Outstanding National Radio Coverage of Thoroughbred Racing.”
He joined the company in 1997 and became vice president of racing communications at Churchill Downs Race Track in 1999.
According to the Daily Racing Form, Asher was the recipient of numerous awards in the racing and radio industries, including the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners’ Warner L. Jones Jr. Horseman of the Year award in 2006 and the Charles W. Engelhard Award for excellence in media coverage from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders. He was named “Best Reporter” seven times by The Associated Press for large-market radio in Kentucky.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer wrote on Twitter: “So heartbroken. The world knows John Asher as the voice of thoroughbred racing and its #1 fan — and he was the best. I also know him as a strong community leader fighting for those who have little. I will so miss his presence at @ChurchillDowns and the streets and boardrooms of Louisville where his total humanity shone like a brilliant first Saturday in May. Rest in peace, brother.”
A native of Leitchfield, Ky., Asher was a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was honored with a “Summit Award” for his volunteer efforts at WKU and was a former president of the WKU National Alumni Board of Directors.
Asher also was a former member of the board of directors of the Kentuckiana Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International and was honored as the chapter’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2004, according to Churchill Downs.