Board of Directors
The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (PTHA) Board of Directors is comprised of an eleven-member board, including one President, five Owner/Directors, and five Trainer/Directors. The terms for each member are in three-year increments, and the board members are decided through an election by owners and trainers of the PTHA. The most recent election was completed on December 31, 2019, and the new board members were announced on January 8, 2020.
Salvatore M. DeBunda, Esq., President
In the more than twenty years that I have been working for the PTHA, the biggest reward is being part of the passion and love that our horsemen bring to the sport of racing.”
Salvatore DeBunda has served as President of the PTHA since 2010, and has been a PTHA Board member for over twenty years. Prior to his election as President, DeBunda served five terms as an Owner/Director, First Vice President, and Chairman of the Finance Committee. He was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.
DeBunda was instrumental in writing and advocating the horsemen’s language for the legislation of Act 71, which allots a percentage of the slot machine revenue to the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Development Fund. The passage of the bill has allowed Parx Racing to lead the industry in providing pensions and medical benefits for trainers, health care for backstretch employees, a retirement program for its racehorses, backstretch renovations, and competitive purses.
The time DeBunda has spent on the PTHA Board and as President has been filled with aiding in additional improvements for horsemen, including the negotiation of a new live racing agreement, creation of the Horsemen’s Purchasing Association to provide feed and shavings at reduced prices, establishment of horsemen’s rights to equal treatment under the law, and renovation programs for both the backstretch and grandstand.
DeBunda is the co-founder and Executive Producer of Let’s Go Racing, a weekly television program on Comcast SportsNet, which provides banter between hosts, replays of races, and previews of major races at Parx Racing as well as premier stakes races around the world. The show celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013.
DeBunda has owned and raced horses since 1988, and during those years has also been involved in breeding and pinhooking as well as racing partnerships. His horses primarily race under the name of Dun Roamin Farm, Inc.
A resident of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, DeBunda practices law in Philadelphia and is one of the shareholders of the law firm Archer & Greiner, P.C., successor to Pelino & Lentz, P.C., where he is the Co-Managing Partner of its Philadelphia office.
Michael P. Ballezzi, Esq., Executive Director, Owner/Director
As a member of the PTHA Board of Directors, I have concentrated my efforts on those issues which are essential to the survival of all horsemen at Parx Racing.”
During his tenure as Executive Director, a position he has held since 1996, Michael Ballezzi has been a crucial leader in propelling the PTHA toward its purpose of improving the lives of its members. He was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2014.
A graduate of Widener Law School, Ballezzi is an attorney and previously served as a District Justice in Delaware County, PA from 1983-1998. He is a licensed Thoroughbred owner and a former trainer, and currently races under the name of Balmora Farm.
As a member of the PTHA Board of Directors, he has concentrated his efforts on many issues that are essential to the survival of all horsemen at Parx, starting with a strong voice in Harrisburg, which resulted in the passage of historical gaming legislation. This allocates the highest percentage to horsemen in the nation, assuring a significant improvement in purses, pension, and health care benefits to Parx horsemen and their families.
In addition, Ballezzi has implemented a fair plan of gaming revenue distribution and stall allocations, which will protect local horsemen who have in the past as well as who currently continue to support our racing program. He has also pushed a valid increasing pari-mutuel percentage purse structure consistent with the rising revenues earned by management.
Also imperative to Ballezzi is the maintenance of a clean and safe backside and racing surface, which is currently being done by utilizing the funding that was generated by the slot legislation to rebuild all existing barns, and renovate all existing dorm rooms with heat and A/C, new wiring, and secured windows and doors.
One of the most important solutions to Ballezzi was the implementation of a fair and compassionate program of benevolence, by offering health insurance policies to eligible horsemen. These health plans include emergency room visits, hospitalization, doctor’s visits, prescription plan, vision and dental care, and life insurance.
Because of the negative press about horse slaughter that the racing industry was experiencing in early 2008, Ballezzi founded a retirement program for the retiring Thoroughbreds of Parx Racing. Under his leadership, Parx Racing 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.
Ballezzi has made Parx horsemen a personal commitment that he will continue to be the strongest voice in the racing industry for the right of each and every horseman and horsewoman to conduct his or her business on a fair and level playing field, and ensure that all Parx horsemen will receive the maximum benefit and protection in purse distribution, live racing days, stall allocations, pension benefits, health care, backside improvements, and individual rights and privileges that the racing industry can offer.
Steven A. Appel, DDS, First Vice President, Owner/Director
I am proud to have been a part of our success. But our work is not over. We must protect the gains we have made. We must educate our legislators in Harrisburg about how important our industry is to the Pennsylvania economy.”
Dr. Steven Appel has been on the PTHA Board of Directors for eighteen years, and is serving his fourth term as First Vice President, after being appointed Treasurer for his first four terms. His direct participation has been important in shaping the future for horsemen in the state of Pennsylvania.
He has worked hard for the passage of the slot machine legislation, improvement of the racing facility, securing renovations for the backstretch, establishing Turning for Home as the first truly viable program for retraining retired horses, and planning the annual awards banquet, which recognizes the achievements of Parx Racing horsemen and its premier equine athletes. He was also a crucial leader of the team that brought the Claiming Crown to Bensalem in 2002. He was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2014.
He has owned racehorses for over thirty years, and is a practicing orthodontist, with offices in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County. His horses currently race under the Wire to Wire Stable name.
Philip Aristone, Second Vice President, Trainer/Director
The most important part of a successful horsemen’s group is the cohesiveness among its members, and that is exactly what the PTHA currently has. That’s why we have been able to accomplish all that has helped our horsemen in recent years.”
Philip Aristone is currently serving his fourth term on the PTHA Board and his first as Second Vice President. With his leadership as Treasurer for his prior two terms, the Finance Committee established a first-of-its-kind pension plan for Parx Racing trainers, which was important in taking care of the horsemen who have supported racing at the Bensalem oval during difficult times.
Aristone feels that the state of racing at Parx has been successful due to the increased purse structure that has finally allowed many horsemen to make a good living in the industry. It has also allowed owners to invest their purse money into upgrading their racing stock, and even the Pennsylvania breeders have been able to do the same with their mares and stallions. In addition, it has allowed Aristone and the PTHA to work with Parx Racing management for a completely renovated backstretch.
As a horseman, Aristone’s 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. Phil Aristone’s brother, Menotti, was a jockey. Phil 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 a public stable. He was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2014.
JACK ARMSTRONG, Owner/Director
Carlos “Charles” Asensio, Treasurer, Owner/Director
I think the PTHA is at a point that the monetary numbers warrant close scrutiny and working closely with legislators. I believe that Parx has an enormous opportunity to become one of the leading – if not already – racetracks in the country.”
Charles Asensio completed his undergraduate studies at Temple University (BS) and his graduate work at Rowan University (MA). He and his family own and manage commercial and industrial real estate in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
He has been associated with the horse racing industry for over 20 years as a fan and is entering his sixth year as a stakes winning owner under the stable name Alexandria Stables, LLC. His trainer is John C. Servis. He retired his top horse, Big Louie D, through the Turning for Home program and followed his progress, even visiting Montclair Stables where he was adopted.
After graduate school, Mr. Asensio founded Human Resources, Inc. (HRI), a tax incentive service bureau helping employers capture federal & state tax credits. Several years later he merged HRI with SMS Management Services of South Carolina and became managing partner of the Atlanta office. SMS was purchased by ADP in 2003.
He is the former chairman of the Perdue Latino Commission for a New Georgia. Mr. Asensio also served as a director of the Federal Home Loan Bank in Atlanta, GA from 2002 through 2004. He has been a member of the board of directors with Georgia Primary Bank in Atlanta, GA since 2007. He is a registered Lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
Edward Coletti, Jr., Trainer/Director
Kathleen DeMasi, Trainer/Director
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. We have certainly made great strides, and I look forward to working towards continued positive changes.”
Kathleen DeMasi is serving her fourth term on the PTHA Board of Directors, and has taken a special interest in many of the programs that have been created by the PTHA in recent years, especially Turning for Home and the Granny Youmans Scholarship Fund. She is always quick to offer suggestions in order to further the success of these programs. Over the past several years, DeMasi has led the annual Parx Racing Hall of Fame committee as Chairwoman. She was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.
DeMasi and her husband, Greg, have been involved in the racing industry 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 1985. She is perennially among the top ten conditioners at Parx Racing.
Robert E. Reid, Trainer/Director
There has not been a better situation for horsemen than the one that currently exists at Parx. We must prove to the powers that be that racing is still a viable, vibrant sport.”
Robert “Butch” Reid, Jr. is currently serving his fourth term as a Trainer/Director, and so has gained the experience necessary to work with the PTHA Board of Directors to move the organization forward. He feels that it is imperative that the PTHA continue to work with track management to improve racing as a product so that Parx can again become viable without relying on subsidies from other forms of gambling. The State of Pennsylvania is under constant pressure for more revenue sources, so the legislature will continue to pursue the Race Horse Development Fund. Reid believes that unless it can be proven that the racing industry is viable, the state of racing in Pennsylvania is in jeopardy.
Reid graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Business Administration, and subsequently worked for a few years at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, trying many different jobs before he realized that he really wanted to go back to the racetrack, where his brother Mark was a trainer. Reid returned to the racetrack and earned his trainer’s license in 1983, where he saddled his first starter and winner, Slady’s Slug. In 2011, Reid was rewarded with his biggest success as a trainer, saddling Afleet Again to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Marathon at Churchill Downs. In 2012, he won his first Grade 1 with Poseidon’s Warrior in the Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, and has since won ten graded stakes.
His wife, Virginia Reid, is his assistant, and his daughter, Whitney Reid Fink, is a Pediatrician who graduated from Drexel University.
John C. Servis, Trainer/Director
With the rapid growth here, there are obviously many concerns. Being a resident of Bensalem, I feel an added interest in the success at Parx Racing.”
John Servis has been training horses since 1984, and was pulled into racing’s limelight in 2004 with the success of then-undefeated 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 became the only trainer to saddle both a Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks winner when Cathryn Sophia captured the 2016 Kentucky Oaks. Servis also trained the Grade 1-winning mares Jostle and Round Pond, as well as popular juvenile colt Rockport Harbor. He was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2011. In 2018, John added Breeders Cup Juvenile Filly G1 winner to his resume with Jaywalk who also captured the G3 Delaware Oaks, and he is going strong in 2020 with Mischevious Alex and two G3 victories: the Gotham and the Swale. Following the example John Servis has set for service to the Horsemen of Parx, Mischevious Alex’s owners, Cash is King, LLC and LC Racing contributed $50,000 to set up the PTHA Backstretch Benevolence Fund to help those adversely affected by the COVID -19 pandemic.
In Memory of: Nicholas J. Saponara, Owner/Director (2014-2019)
Since joining the PTHA Board I have enjoyed working with the other board members to elevate Parx Racing to a higher echelon in the racing industry. I look forward to working with the Board towards the betterment of racing in Pennsylvania.”
Nicholas Saponara was elected to his first term on the PTHA Board of Directors in 2014, and brings to the table an extensive resume: writer, handicapper, odds maker, horse owner, teacher, etc. He has been widely recognized in the harness world, including serving as the U.S. Harness Writer’s Association President from 1980-82. In 2004, he was inducted by his peers into the Communicator’s Hall of Fame, which was established to honor outstanding USHWA members.
Saponara graduated from North Catholic High School and attended night school at St. Joseph’s University before landing a job with The Philadelphia Bulletin’s Sports Department in 1957. In 1963 he became the paper’s handicapper, rating the horses on the Liberty Bell-Brandywine circuit, Keystone Racetrack, and Atlantic City Race Course. He served in the position until The Bulletin’s demise in 1982. Saponara also prepared the morning line odds at Brandywine, Liberty Bell Park and Atlantic City Harness, as well as for Keystone Racetrack Thoroughbreds, was a contributor to Tom Ainslie’s “Complete Guide To Harness Racing”, and taught a course on handicapping at the University of Pennsylvania.
His first racehorse was a Standardbred named Mission Hop. A few years ago, Saponara made the transition to Thoroughbreds, forming Club Risque Stable, which claimed its first horse, Flying Clipper, in 2006. The stable now owns twelve Thoroughbreds, eight of which are with Parx Racing trainer Randy Allen.