Dee Asher on late husband: ‘You really miss him this week’

John Asher, the face of Churchill Downs, died suddenly in August

Loss of John Asher felt around track during Breeders' Cup

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The sights and sounds of a big event at Churchill Downs are certainly back this week, still backside to frontside, it all feels a little quiet, a little empty realizing the historic track’s one-man welcome party John Asher, won’t be coming around the corner during the Breeders' Cup.

Close friends and colleagues said they’ve missed mornings that always began with the late VP’s big smile.

“The emotions of the week of his passing, they’ve come flooding back this week,” Churchill Downs Communications Director Darren Rogers said.

Legendary horsemen like Wayne Lukas miss the deep, soothing voice they could listen to all day.

“He was one of the few guys when he came by, you just invited him into your tack room,” Lukas said.

Trainers who grew up around him, like Norm Casse, just miss his presence.

“The man was famous here in Louisville, and he meant so much to me,” Casse said. “He meant so much to the racing community and the Louisville community in general, for them to have a big event here, you can feel a void that’s for sure.”

The void has been felt most by John’s family and the love of his life, his wife of 31 years, Dee Asher.

“We’re doing OK,” she said. “It’s been a tough week, I didn’t expect that.”

The August day they lost him is still fresh. The Ashers were taking their two grandsons to Disney World; two of three daughters made the trip. John got up early and wasn’t feeling well.

“About 30 minutes later, John said, ‘I think I need to go to the hospital,’” Dee Asher recalled. They called 911.

“My daughter came back to me and said, Dad’s looking at me, but he doesn’t see me,” Dee said.

Gone that fast, it was stunning because John had been hospitalized in 2016 with complications from Type-2 diabetes, but recovered fully.

After notifying family, her first call was to Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery “because that’s John’s heart,” Dee said of his Churchill Downs family.

Her heart was also weighing something.

“As we got back, I thought, ‘John just would not be happy in a funeral home,’” she said, adding that his viewing had to be at the track.

“He just said, ‘Yes, yes we’ll do it,’” she said of Flanery’s response.

John Asher’s last trip around the historic track with “My Old Kentucky Home” playing was the perfect tribute. Thousands came to say goodbye, bringing comfort with every story and every hug.

"We honestly had no idea that this city would just envelop him the way they did,” Dee said. “It’s just been amazing.”

Now in the quiet moments, Dee said she thinks about her country boy and radio man who found his perfect job as a boy, when his mom took him to see Proud Clarion win the Kentucky Derby in 1967.

“He said it just grabbed him,” she recalled, adding that she misses John’s vast memory, his love of music and passion for his Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

She said she also misses the way people were drawn to him when he walked into a room.

“The e-mails in the middle of the day or the texts,” seemed to choke Dee up some. She also loved how he checked his phone for racing updates and how excited he got over them.

Above all, she said she misses the way John loved his children and grandchildren.

“And, you really miss him this week,” she said, thinking about how thrilled he was about the Breeders' Cup returning to Churchill.

As John and Dee would want, his track family moves forward in his honor, to bring their best to Breeders' Cup and beyond.

Rogers said the promise is to always ask one question: “What would make John Proud?”

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