In the 144-year history of the Kentucky Derby, Meriwether Lewis Clark made the race. One of Churchill Downs’ oldest stakes races, as it was his creation, bears his name.
Matt Winn’s promotional genius made the race into a cultural phenomenon. A stakes race and the turf course bear his name.
And, a strong case can be made that John Asher, who died Monday morning, did more than any other person the last 50 years to keep the Kentucky Derby on that pedestal.
What will be named after John can be decided later. But there should be something. And it should be really important. If not one of the Twin Spires (or, if John was writing the release, “the historic Twin Spires,” often with a celebrated horse “under the shadow of”), then maybe the infield pagoda where the Derby winner’s circle is located. Something.
Asher’s place in the story of the Kentucky Derby is significant (the only other name that comes to mind as being in the debate is former CEO Tom Meeker).
The amount of Kentucky Derby knowledge that goes to the grave with him could fill the Kentucky Derby Museum. From his career in radio journalism, his gift for storytelling could entertain any crowd with those stories. He spoke at more “rubber chicken” dinners than any politician.
The good will John earned speaking at those events — and as one of the most positive and friendly people in history — helped him preserve the place and standing of a racetrack that, as a publicly traded company, at times has acted to aid its critics — like opposing scalping and then hiring a company that scalped Derby tickets. Asher’s reassuring voice and good name throughout Louisville, the state of Kentucky and the racing world helped Churchill Downs Inc. get through self-inflicted wounds.
He’d also point out to those critics, commentators and some journalists — when Churchill would be vilified as the most money-grubbing actor in American racing — that no company has put the millions into racing that Churchill has.
All that preaching and promoting has helped secure the future of the race everyone loves. As a result, his place in the history of Churchill Downs and the Derby is secure, as much as any list of winners on a Derby glass.
Others are posting wonderful memories and stories about John and what he meant to their careers. Suffice it to say I could do the same — I don’t know where to begin. But here’s where I’ll end, quoting him. When my mother died earlier this year, John commented on Facebook (he was omnipresent on social media — even the night before he died) that he was thinking of my family and to “try to think of the countless beautiful moments.”
I think that’s what John would want all of us to do right now.