Derby Winners, Family, Springsteen, and John Asher

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Many thoughts filled my head today (Aug. 27) on the news of John Asher's passing, a bunch all at once, and then seemingly one about every hour as I thought, “I can’t believe John is gone.”

These are a few of the many pleasant memories.

In terms of John Asher’s professionalism, I’ll share the most recent example. All writers and reporters will get this right away, for those who are not, I’ll try to explain a bit.

On Friday, I called John about Churchill maneuvering to end racing on its Calder property in Florida. He was out of the office but I had his cell phone number, as did every other reporter, because John included it in every email and on his work voicemail. From many years of working with John, he was perfectly good with you calling that number.

He didn’t answer the cell but I left a message. John called back within two minutes, explaining that he’d been driving and needed to find a place to pull over to call back. (He’s apologizing and I’m thinking, ‘John do you realize how many times I’ve waited hours for a return call or never got one?’) Learning details of his passing today, now I wonder if John was already on vacation when he called back? It wouldn’t surprise me.

Anyway that was John, he was there for you and felt bad if he wasn’t there for you right away. That would go for him professionally and personally.

As for Friday’s conversation, he said he wasn’t sure anyone would comment but he’d get the right person to contact me soon. John understood that if a reporter is calling, it usually meant that we were looking to post the story ASAP. The Churchill representative got a hold of me and she had no comment, which is what I figured all along. But as a reporter, you give all involved an opportunity to comment and it’s important to hear back either way.

A former reporter himself, John always understood what it was like to be the person on the other end of the phone trying to put a story together and he was such a pro that I never encountered a time when he didn’t help me out as soon as he could. Beyond that, he enjoyed working with people and helping them as best he could.

We chatted a bit as well, nothing too deep, but his perpetual good mood poured through the phone.

While that’s the story fresh in mind, what I’ll recall most about John is his love of his family, the Derby, racing, Churchill Downs, Bruce Springsteen, and live music. I always looked forward to seeing John during Derby week. During the busiest of weeks, his enthusiasm would always provide me a boost as we discussed how things were coming together for this year’s race, as well as updating our lives—typically since last November’s racing--and the latest concerts he’d attended. The latter would serve as reminder that I’d slowed a bit in my concert attendance—John most assuredly never did.

Those passions would always result in a great story from John. In writing stories, I’m constantly re-writing, moving sentences, moving paragraphs, changing words to get the story just right. John would tell his stories, stories with beginnings, middle, a climax, and an end. How did he do that?

And the voice relaying those stories was flawless. He must’ve been something to hear each day on the radio. I wasn't in Louisville, Ky. for that.

Another of the many thoughts about John today? He was one heck of a handicapper, especially when it came to little nuggets about Churchill Downs. Ahead of the 2011 Kentucky Derby, I found myself liking Animal Kingdom—a horse I’d seen in person win his maiden race the previous fall on the Polytrack at Keeneland and then that spring take the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park.

Team Valor’s Animal Kingdom also had run on turf but would be making his dirt debut in the Derby. In talking with John, he noted that a lot of times horses with turf pedigrees—Animal Kingdom is by successful turf runner Leroidesanimaux—would run well on the Churchill main track. That was enough push for me, and I opted to win bet both Dialed In—I couldn’t completely get away from him—and Animal Kingdom that year—which worked out well as the latter won at 20-1.

Derby winners are hard to come by, as are people like John Asher.

Today was a tough day at BloodHorse as everyone in the office, and beyond, was upset to hear about John’s passing. Ron Mitchell fought through his grief to put a nice obituary together.

We’ll all miss John Asher.

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