John Asher tribute

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- More than eight months after John Asher's death, the void is enormous.

"I keep waiting for him to shuffle down and hear that big, booming voice, 'My brother.' It's still strange," says Darren Rogers, Churchill Downs Communications. "We miss him. Everybody around here does."

Churchill Downs President Kevin Flannery adds, "As we're getting closer to Derby, you'll find yourself getting up from your desk and going to talk to John. I've done that several times; it's unbelievable."

John lived and breathed the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs, and horse racing in general.

"That's the irony of it. When he passed, he was on vacation, and he never took a vacation," Rogers says.

"He was the soul of our team," Flannery said. "He was the one--I still hear him in the back of my head, you know when we're dealing with issues. It's not what would he do but what would he say to calm us and keep us focused on what's important."

John was familiar to everyone at the track. He would make time to watch a race each day; he was frequently in the barns; and he regularly had lunch at the Track Kitchen, where he always ordered a big burrito with sour cream on the side and green salsa. And, he ate it with a spectacular view of the twin spires.

Tonya Calfee manages the kitchen where she and her staff watched as John's hearse carried him around the track one last time to the bugler playing of My Old Kentucky Home.

A couple weeks later, she arrived at work to see this rainbow stretching over the track--a sign from John, she says. Asher was known for saying, each year, that it would be sunny and 75 for Derby.

"That's what I pray for this year, and I think it will happen," Calfee said. "I think we will have sunny and 75 this year, and that'll be John looking down and smiling at everybody."

A new portrait of John hangs prominently in the media center with that familiar, welcoming smile he always wore.

"When you think about all the qualities John had--that baritone voice, that beaming smile, the ability to engage in every conversation, be everywhere at once seemingly, God broke the mold when he made John Asher. I mean, he really did," Rogers said.

The street in front of Churchill Downs has been renamed John S. Asher Way, and a tribute is planned after the fourth race on Derby Day. The Derby Museum included him in a new exhibit, and media members are wearing microphone pins in his memory.

But, still... "It won't be the same...I'll just leave it at that," Rogers said.

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