MIKE BALLEZZI’S LASTING IMPACT AT PARX
Michael P. Ballezzi, Sr. Esq., age 76, on August 31, 2022 of Phoenixville, formerly of Upper Darby, PA. Michael was a District Magistrate and member of The PA Thoroughbred Horseman’s Assoc. “PTHA”.
Survived by his wife Ardith “Ardie” (nee Cann), his son Michael P. Jr., his brother Louis F. (Mary nee Brescia) Ballezzi Esq. and many loving nieces and nephews.
Relatives & friends are invited to his viewing Monday, Morning Sept. 12th; 10:00 A.M. – 11:45 A.M. followed by his Funeral Service 12:00 Noon in the Main Chapel of The D’Anjolell Memorial Home of Broomall 2811 West Chester Pike 19008. Interment Private.
Contributions in Michael’s memory may be made to Turning For Home.org.
By Dick Jerardi
It’s been nearly a half century so trainer Phil Aristone, who
was a sophomore in high school, can be forgiven if his memory
isn’t clear about whether Mike Ballezzi got his trainer’s license
before he got his law license after graduation from Widener Law
School in 1976.
The bottom line is the same. Ballezzi’s background in the
law and horse racing were the perfect marriage during his 25-
year run as the executive director of the Pennsylvania
Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA).
“His passion was the horses,’’ said Aristone who called
Ballezzi “like my big brother.’’
Ballezzi, 76, passed away Aug. 31, eight months after he
retired following his incredibly impactful run with the PTHA.
“I would sit in the office with him and he would get an
idea,’’ Aristone said. “It was unbelievable the innate ability he
would have to get it from start to finish.’’
When the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and
Gaming Act (aka Act 71, the slots bill) was being debated,
Ballezzi was right there pushing alongside PTHA president Sal
DeBunda. When it became law in 2004, Ballezzi was
instrumental in implementing all those ideas Aristone spoke
There was the horsemen’s medical insurance and pension
plan and the Granny Fund (scholarships for stable employees).
Before that, there was the Horsemens’ Purchasing Association
(great deals on feed, bedding, and equipment). And there were the
purse account negotiations with Parx management, support for
the weekly television show Let’s Go Racing, creation of the
Parx Hall of Fame and, in 2008, Ballezzi’s idea of a Parx-based
horse retirement program came to life as “Turning For Home.’’
Fourteen years later, TFH has retired and rehomed more
than 3.600 horses. It is recognized nationally as the gold
standard for race track horse retirement programs.
Dani Gibson, the PTHA’s publicity director and the host of
Let’s Go Racing, calls Ballezzi “the best boss I ever had.’’
“You felt supported; he had your back,’’ she said. “He
believed in you so much you really felt like anything you
dreamed could come true and he would lead you there.’’
Danielle Montgomery is the second TFH program
administrator succeeding Barbara Luna. Aristone suggested to
Danielle that she apply for the job.
She didn’t really know Ballezzi. When she went for her
interview, she found him “intimidating, but impressive.’’
Montgomery had a horse background and an office
background. She was the perfect fit and Ballezzi knew it.
“He taught me everything I need to know about this
business,’’ Montgomery said. “With Turning For Home, it was
always `do the right thing.’ He mentored me and taught me so
It was, she said, “always do the right thing for the
horsemen and the horses.’’
DeBunda and Ballezzi were a team at Parx. When asked
for Ballezzi’s best characteristic, DeBunda did not hesitate.
“He was a bulldog,’’ DeBunda said. “We would come up
with things together and he was aggressive and assertive about
the things we were trying to do.’’
When slots became a possibility, DeBunda and Ballezzi
were relentless. They kept working until the law was passed.
Then, they really got to work on all those programs for the
“We felt we were a village and most of the other states did
not have the permanency of our relationship,’’ DeBunda said.
“They were more transient. We felt like we had to treat our
people more like they were year-round residents.’’
So they did exactly that with the medical and the pension
and all the rest.
It was not just the ideas that became action. There was also
Ballezzi’s behind-the-scenes work outside the spotlight.
“Guys would come in there for help completely unrelated
to the horse business and it was like having a sitdown with a
lawyer,’’ Aristone said. “He helped so many people in so many
ways. If he thought somebody was in the right, he would go to
the mat for them.’’
Ballezzi’s wife Ardie was Roland Aristone’s personal
secretary for his construction company in South Jersey.
“Mike credits my dad with putting him through law
school,’’ Phil Aristone remembered. “He would give Ardie a
bonus, and that would take care of some of his college. Mike said
he made up a job for him. He would have him take pictures of
high schools in various stages of construction.’’
That was when the Aristones had 105 horses on their 350-
acre farm in Indian Mills (Shamong Township), N.J.
“He was part of our family,’’ Aristone said.
And the record shows that Mike Ballezzi took out his
owner’s license in 1973, the same year he got his undergraduate
degree from Rutgers. Racing under the stable name Balmora
Farm, Ballezzi still owned horses in 2022 with Aristone as his
trainer and when they spoke three days before Ballezzi died, he
told his trainer that Snappy Ride “is going to break her maiden
next time out.’’
The M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile was first run at Parx
in 2019. When the race is run again on Oct. 18, it will have
special meaning for everybody who worked with Mike at the
PTHA and knew him inside and outside of horse racing. It won’t
be the same without Mike in the winner’s circle to present the
trophy, but his memory will be there forever through the race
named in his honor and the work he did for the horsemen all