A resident of Blue Bell, he practices law in Philadelphia and is one of the shareholders of the law firm of Archer & Greiner, P.C., successor to Pelino & Lentz, P.C. He has owned and raced horses since 1988, and during those 22 years has also been involved in breeding and pinhooking as well as racing partnerships.
As a Director and Officer of the PTHA, DeBunda was the chief lobbyist for most of the horsemen’s language contained in the Pennsylvania Slots Bill, a Bill that has dramatically improved both purses and the facilities under which the members of the PTHA board and race their horses. In the past, he had helped to negotiate a new live racing agreement, established the Horsemen’s Purchasing Association to provide feed and shavings at reduced prices, and developed horsemen’s rights to equal treatment under the law. DeBunda also worked toward the backstretch renovation project, and prior to that, a new paddock area. He has also been instrumental in obtaining in medical services to the PTHA.
Michael P. Ballezzi, Esq.
Executive Director and Owner/Director
A graduate of Widener Law School, Michael Ballezzi is a practicing lawyer, and has served as a District Justice in Delaware County, PA. As a licensed Thoroughbred owner and a former trainer licensed PA, NJ, NY, DE, WV and MD, he currently races under the name of Balmora Farm.
During his tenure as Executive Director, a position he has held since 1996, Ballezzi has been instrumental in working closely with Philadelphia Park management to implement a $25 million plan for complete backstretch renovation starting in 2008 including all 35 barns and 12 dormitories. The backstretch has also undergone expansion of trash removal, addition of hotwalking machines, track kitchen expansion, and improved trainer viewing stands.
Past frontside improvements under Ballezzi’s directorship include paddock renovation and an expanded walking ring, special horsemen’s parking and box seat area, and a weekly trophy race sponsored by the PTHA. In late 2008, Ballezzi negotiated with management to return the grandstand, now serving as a casino, to an area for horsemen and racing fans when the new casino opens.
He worked hard to gain increased purses for the horsemen to through the slots legislation, which was passed and signed by the Governor in 2004. Over $60 million was paid out in 2008 in overnight races, stakes and PA-bred bonuses. In 2009, an expected $300,000 a day will be offered in purses.
Through Ballezzi’s efforts, the PTHA has established first-of-its kind care for its horsemen in the form of the Benefit Trust for backstretch employees, a $1.2 million/year health insurance plan for trainers and their families, and a pension plan for trainers. Weekly health services are offered for all backstretch employees through LaSalle Nursing, and Dr. Brian Rizen and his staff see patients in the doctor’s Rec Hall office.
The Rec Hall is also the site of many social and charitable functions started by Ballezzi: Chaplain Jack Cordell helps host Easter and Christmas parties for the children of backstretch workers, while programs for alcohol and drug treatmentare also available through the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America.
In order to further education for Philadelphia Park’s stable employees, the PTHA also sponsors the Groom-Elite Program and the Granny Youmans Scholarship Fund.
Under Ballezzi’s leadership, Philadelphia Park became the first year-round racetrack to open its own racehorse retirement program, Turning For Home, Inc., which has become a model plan for other tracks in the United States.
The PTHA also produces a weekly TV show, Let’s Go Racing, offers a full color 16-page bimonthly newsletter, and a website with up-to-date information on local and national horseracing, the racehorse adoption program, and calendar of events.
Six days a week the PTHA office is open with expanded hours to accommodate the horsemen’s needs: racing and sales publications, computers with internet access, copier and fax service are available to licensed trainers.
Supporting Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Racing has been my goal since I arrived at Philadelphia Park in 1996. As an owner who has witnessed the struggles and enormous growth of Philadelphia Park, it gives me great pride to recognize the opportunities that are now available for owners. It is my sincerest wish to work with my colleagues to ensure that Pennsylvania racing is always at the forefront of the industry.
After graduating from LSU, Lisa Allen immediately began working in the thoroughbred industry. Working her way from hotwalker, groom, clocker, jockey agent, and racing official she eventually became owner. In May of 2010, she started L A Thoroughbreds and is currently managing partner.
“I am proud that L A Thoroughbreds is currently ranked 3rd in the owners’ standings,” said Allen. “My love of horses and racing has led me to maintain a full time career about which I am truly passionate.”
Steven A. Appel, DDS
Dr. Appel has owned racehorses for almost 31 years. A practicing orthodontist with offices in NE Philly and Bucks County, he has served as treasurer and owner/director for the PTHA for the last 12 years.
His direct participation in such areas as helping to pass slot machine legislation; improvement of our racing facility; securing future improvements to our backstretch; establishing Parx trainers as national leaders in the Claiming Crown; and planning our awards banquet to recognize the achievements of our horsemen, are a few of the programs Appel has helped to promote.
“With the passage of slot machine legislation, our board has made the most sweeping change to the racing landscape that Parx horsemen have ever experienced,” said Appel. “ I am proud to have been a part of this success. But we must protect the gains we have made in our purse structure. Our local state representatives must see the commitment and professionalism displayed by our trainers and backstretch workers. Then they will come away with a better understanding of how the sport of racing enriches the lives of every single person on the backstretch and is not just a means to enrich the state through betting handle.”
Mary A. Kernan
Mary Kernan is serving her third term on the PTHA Board of Directors, and has owned racehorses since 1997. She graduated from community college and then earned a degree at Rutgers in Equine Management, eventually becoming involved in the racing industry after selling her show horse stable.
During her years as an owner, she worked with a number of trainers and been involved in several racing partnerships.
She and her husband, Morris, reside in Stow Creek, NJ and own a produce farm in Cumberland County.
“I will help stay a part of the best solution for owners,” said Kernan. “And help to continue to improve the quality of racing we have worked so hard to attain at Parx.”
Originally from New York, Swisher’s first experience in racing was trips to Belmont and Aqueduct after his job unloading trucks for Scott Paper. He became enamored with the sport, and eventually purchased his first horse from Mark Reid in 1980, and at one time owned ten horses in partnership with the trainer, Mark Fusco, who passed away in 2009. Swisher currently has a small stable at Parx and lives in East Windsor, NJ.
Swisher formerly worked in finance, and as a horse owner, understands the importance of investing. “I believe it is necessary for trainers and owners to take advantage of the highest purses on the East Coast here at Parx,” said Swisher. “Horsemen need to continue to upgrade their stock to increase the quality of our racing product.”
Swisher is serving his first term on the Board.
Aristone is serving his second term as Director on the PTHA board. His involvement with horses comes naturally, as his family-owned Indian Mills Stock Farm in New Jersey was built by his father, the late Roland Aristone. Bombay Duck and King Celebrity were two of the stallions that stood there.
His brother, Menotti, was a jockey, and another brother, Roland, Jr., currently oversees the farm operation. Aristone initially worked as an assistant to Ben Perkins from 1974, until he took over family’s string of horses in 1980 when Perkins opened up a public stable.
He currently is involved in the PTHA’s Finance Committee which is working on the pension plans. He feel it is very important to take care of the horsemen who have supported Parx Racing for many years.
“The increased purse structure has finally allowed many of these horsemen to make a living in this business,” said Aristone.
Kate DeMasi and her husband, Greg have been involved in racing for over 25 years with their Pewter Stables, a racing partnership. As a trainer, DeMasi saddled her first starter – which was also her first winner – in 1984. She is perennially among the top 10 conditioners at Parx.
She has served on the PTHA Board of Directors for the last six years, most recently taking an interest in the horsemen’s Turning For Home program, started by the PTHA in 2008.
“Our organization has worked hard to get necessary backstretch improvements that were so badly needed, as well as implement programs for benefits, health and pension,” said DeMasi. “We have certainly made great strides, and I look forward toward working towards continued positive changes.”
Ed Lehman has been licensed in Pennsylvania as an owner-trainer for almost 35 years, and was one of the first trainers to ship into the new Keystone Racetrack from Atlantic City.
Raised in Medford, New Jersey, Lehman enjoyed his father’s Tennessee Walking Horses as a boy, but soon fell in love with Thoroughbred racing when he and his dad attended the races at Garden State. That interest grew into working summers at Monmouth, then moving straight from high school graduation to a fulltime job on the backstretch. He earned his own license for the first time in Pennsylvania after owning a horse at Liberty Bell. The well-traveled trainer currently resides in Westampton, NJ.
“I am very happy to have been elected to the PTHA board for my first term,” said Lehman. “I look forward to working with everyone, and feel that a lot can be accomplished. As a trainer, I see first hand, every morning what things may be done to help insure the safety of our horses and riders, and I am hoping to work towards that end—seeking what is best for the entire industry.”
Trainer Robert “Butch” Reid lives in Bensalem, with his wife, assistant trainer Ginny. Their daughter, Whitney, attends Wellesley College in Boston.
A graduate of the University of Maryland, Reid earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, and hotwalking for his brother, Mar,k at Monmouth Park during the summers.
In 1981, he worked at the newly-opened Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, trying many different jobs before he realized that he really wanted to go back to the racetrack. He eventually earned his trainer’s license in 1983, saddling his first starter and winner, Slady’s Slug . Three years later, he took out a Pennsylvania license, and for 27 years has been saddling horses up and down the East Coast. He is currently based full time at Parx, and will be serving his first term on the PTHA board as a Trainer Director
“There has not been a better situation for horsemen than the one that currently exists at Parx,” said Reid. “We must prove to the powers that be that racing is still a viable, vibrant sport.”
John Servis has been training horses since 1984, and was pulled into racing’s limelight in 2004 with the success of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones. He was honored the same year by the Turf Publicists of America as the Big Sport of Turfdom for “enhancing the sport of Thoroughbred racing through cooperation with the media.”
A native of Charles Town, WV, Servis initially followed in his father’s footsteps as a jockey agent, then became an assistant trainer to Mark Reid. Winning his first race as a trainer in 1984, he scored career win 1,000 in 2007. He currently lives in Bensalem with his family.
“I want to help the horsemen with their concerns,” said Servis. “And as a resident of Bensalem, I feel an added interest in the success of Parx Racing.”