When Keeneland opens every spring and fall, it lures hoards of horse admirers from around the country.
Some flock to Lexington for the festive nature of Keeneland. Some come to take their chances on some of the richest gambling opportunities in the horse racing industry. And then there are others like Ralph and Valarie DiSiena, whose unparalleled love for the horse-racing industry brings them to Keeneland to work every spring.
The DiSienas’ pursuit of a lifelong passion for Keeneland began in 1979 when they crossed paths with a horse trainer from Kentucky. Then residing in California, Ralph and Valarie took full advantage of an offer to work for that trainer and follow his circuit.
They were hooked.
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This time around, Ralph works in guest services at Keeneland and Valarie works inside as a greeter. But the career paths Ralph and Valarie enjoyed in between their first trip to Keeneland and their current one is just as intriguing as their love for thoroughbreds.
God made the farms first and then He dropped Keeneland in the middle and it’s Heaven.
While in California, Valarie worked for the Disney Channel for 26 years, serving as a standards and practices manager, ensuring everything behind the scenes — the scripts, clothing, etc. — were suitable for their viewers. Ralph worked in guest services for Warner Bros., where he would bring audiences into shows like Conan O’Brien, Mike And Molly, The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.
But retirement wasn’t for them, so they’re right back in the Bluegrass.
“It just draws you,” Ralph said. “You have to come back.”
Valarie, with a child-like glow in her face, said, “We tried retirement and it didn’t fit us. We looked at each other and said ‘Keeneland is starting, you think we could (go)?’ And God smiled on us and said go for it.”
But what exactly draws this couple — who spend so much time on the road at tracks like Saratoga — back to Central Kentucky this time of year?
“Keeneland is the heartbeat of racing,” Ralph said, noting that he and Valarie have taken “the Keeneland way” to Saratoga. For Valarie, it’s the value Keeneland can bring to those attending and it’s why they continue coming back.
“Keeneland is a gift to everybody,” Valarie said. “Everything is picturesque. God made the farms first and then He dropped Keeneland in the middle and it’s Heaven.”