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Ralph "Bud" Vacca
1935 - 2020
Ralph "Bud" Vacca

Former Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association (WTBOA) General Manager, longtime horseman, and leader Ralph Vacca passed away in his home in Auburn on July 20, 2020 at the age of 84. He was born on November 8, 1935, in Seattle, the first of two sons born to Ralph A. and Rose Vacca.

Bud, as he was nicknamed, grew up in the Rainier Valley and graduated from Franklin High School. He later attended Washington State University. His love of horses grew after spending time on his grandparents' vegetable farms, where they still used work horses. When he was 14, Ralph and his younger brother Richard rode the bus to North Seattle to take riding lessons. In high school, Bud would get up at 5 a.m. to go to the track and walk race horses alongside his brother and close lifelong friend John Chatalas. Ralph counted his "best moment" as the first time he walked through the back gates of Longacres and trainer G. L. Martin handed him a shank attached to the filly Seattle Belle.

After sending more than a dozen letters to major farms in Kentucky to apply for a job, he received two replies. One was a definite no and the other, from Stoner Creek Farm manager Charles Kenney, offered him $40 a week in a starter position, saying: "If you're not afraid of long hours and short pay, come down." Kenney became a mentor to Ralph and later "loaned" the young horseman to Claiborne Farm to work with the "long" yearlings.

In 1959 Ralph returned to Washington where, on April 20, he joined the then Washington Horse Breeders Association (WHBA, known today as the WTBOA) staff as field secretary. In addition, he became the advertising representative for The Washington Horse magazine and worked with association's 4 H program.

Ralph moved back to Kentucky in October 1961 to take a position in the advertising department of the Thoroughbred Record. He next worked in the Lexington office of the Daily Racing Form, where he did weekly columns about what was happening around the Kentucky farms.

Ralph returned to the WHBA on September 1, 1964, as advertising manager for The Washington Horse (now Washington Thoroughbred). Sixteen months later he was promoted to editor of the magazine. In May 1973, Ralph was appointed "interim" WHBA general manager and by the following November he was awarded the position outright. Among the many innovations Ralph fostered was the institution of phone bidding at the 1977 WHBA winter sale. In the late 1980s, Vacca was also instrumental in the development of Washington's satellite legislation. Ralph was at the helm of the WTBA during the heady days (1978 to 1987) when racing flourished both nationally and locally.

In September 1990, the sale of Longacres to The Boeing Company was announced. In the years that followed, Ralph played a huge part in saving the state's racing industry. Emerald Downs was opened in June 1996 and the WTBA found its new home there in January 1998.

The passing of legislation that was important to fostering and growing the horse industry was always high on Ralph's agenda. With his leadership, connections, and perseverance, many important pieces of legislation were passed in Olympia. Equally important through the years was stopping legislation that would have a negative impact on the industry.

On Ralph's retirement from WTBOA on December 31, 2007, after 47 years with the association, Keeneland President and CEO Nick Nicolson penned the following words to be read at Ralph's November retirement party: "The state of Washington maintains a respected position within the Thoroughbred community and much of it is attributable to your [Vacca's] hard work during the last four decades."

"Ralph Vacca has become the voice and face of the breeding and sales industry in Washington State. He has been consistent, reliable, articulate and credible - a true champion of the sport," said his friend Ken Alhadeff.

Throughout the years Ralph served on the Washington Horse Racing Commission (to which he was appointed by Governor Gary Locke), Washington Thoroughbred Foundation and THRUST boards, WSU Equine Advisory Board, King County Agricultural Commission, and Equine Art committee. He was actively involved in the Backstretch Chapel, Emerald Backstretch Daycare Center, and WTBOA Youth programs. Among his awards were induction into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame (2013) and the S. J. Agnew Special Achievement Award (1990).

"I have always maintained that the racehorse business is more of a people business than a horse business. One of its greatest assets and most significant points is that so many people, from so many different walks of life, come together owing to their love and respect for the equine animal. Few other industries and/or businesses are so diverse." Ralph Vacca.

Ralph is survived by his children, Darrell (Linda) Vacca, Dionne Stein, Melanie (Tom) Bidman, Kyle Vacca (Goldie Lui), and Rachel (Rich) Pring; grandchildren, Rafe, Josh, Kevin, Garrett, Teddy, and Julian; great-grandchild, Caelin; brother, Richard (Linda) Vacca; and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.

A memorial scholarship in Ralph Vacca's name is being set up. Remembrances may be sent in c/o Washington Thoroughbred Foundation, 3220 Ron Crockett Dr. NW, Auburn, WA 98001.
Published by The Seattle Times on Aug. 2, 2020.
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5 Entries
Bud, so sad that you are gone. We are first cousins, our mothers being sisters. Bud was on the upper end of the cousins age wise, and I'm the youngest of the cousins on the Isernio side. I was about 4 years old when I handed out the favors at Bud's first wedding to Dalene. I still remember having a picture with them, she so pretty and he so handsome. Over the years we had a few "first cousins" reunions and I got to know Bud better. We talked on the phone and I came to know what a sweet and kind man he was, a great father, grandfather, brother, friend, etc. I remember hearing about him going to Kentucky to work with horses, but the article really fleshes out all that he did for the horses and horse racing industry, in Kentucky and here in Washington state. I'm not surprised he was so well liked and respected. My condolences to his family, brother Dick, children, grandchildren, great grandchild, nieces, nephews, cousins, and everyone else whose lives he touched. He will be missed by so many. He loved my biscotti, so I'm going to make a big batch of those in memory of one of my favorite cousins. Rest in peace, Bud.
Linda Frangello Franco
August 4, 2020
Jennifer Fagerlie
August 3, 2020
He was an outstanding member of the racing community. He devoted his life to a sport that owners and fans embraced. We formerly owned race horses at Long Acres and Emerald Downs and we knew him personally.
Bob and Pat Froelich
August 2, 2020
Darrell Vacca
August 2, 2020
Darrell Vacca
August 2, 2020
Showing 1 - 5 of 5 results