John Asher, the vice president of racing communications at Churchill Downs Racetrack — the site of the annual Kentucky Derby in Louisville — died at age 62 on Monday after suffering a heart attack

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2016 Kentucky Oaks
Credit: Gustavo Caballero/Getty

John Asher, the vice president of racing communications at Churchill Downs Racetrack — the site of the annual Kentucky Derby in Louisville — died at age 62 on Monday after suffering an apparent heart attack.

Asher was vacationing with his family in Florida at the time, Churchill Downs said in a press release on Monday.

“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, said in a statement. “His passion for the Kentucky Derby, horse racing, his WKU Hilltoppers, great music, and above all else his loving family was genuine and infectious. Racing has lost an icon.”

Continued Flanery, “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.”

Asher worked as a radio journalist and a publicist before starting at Churchill Downs in 1997.

“When he went to Churchill Downs, I’m not sure they even knew what his position would be,” his brother Tim Asher told the Louisville Courier Journal. “He really defined that position, and as communications changed over the years it became something very important. At Derby time, I don’t think he ever turned down an opportunity to speak.”

Prominent figures in racing and in Louisville also mourned Asher’s death on Twitter.

Larry Collmus, a racing announcer, said, “Absolutely devastating news for our sport. There was no one I knew who loved this game more than @johnasher. Just terrible to hear of his passing. Condolences to his family and his extended family at @ChurchillDowns.”

Greg Fischer, the mayor of Louisville, also wrote a tribute on Twitter, saying, “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.”

He continued, “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.”

Asher is survived by Dee and daughters Heather, Erin and Emma, the Courier Journal reported.