Ballezzi, longtime PTHA Executive Director, passes at age 76

By: Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Posted: Sept. 1, 2022

The Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association is saddened to share news of the passing of Michael P. Ballezzi, who served as the organization’s Executive Director for 25 years prior to his retirement last year. Ballezzi, age 76, passed away Aug. 31.

“We’ve lost not only a great horseman, but also a great friend and leader,” said Salvatore DeBunda, President of the PTHA Board of Directors. “Mike dedicated 25 years of his life to championing the well-being and care of equine athletes, as well as championing the interests of horsemen at Parx Racetrack and across Pennsylvania. When he retired, Mike left behind an incredible legacy at the PTHA.”

“Mike Ballezzi’s impact on Pennsylvania racing, horsemen, and our retired racehorses will live on for many years to come,” said Jeffrey Matty, Executive Director of the PTHA. “But his impact extends far beyond the policies and programs he championed. He touched so many people on and off the track on a personal level, and that may be his greatest legacy.”

One of Ballezzi’s most significant accomplishments, Turning for Home, was an outgrowth of his deep commitment to the health and well-being of our retired racehorses. Since Turning for Home’s creation in May 2008, the non-profit has placed more than 3,200 former Parx racehorses in new homes and racing careers. The non-profit is now considered by many as the gold standard for track-based racehorse retirement programs.

Ballezzi served as Executive Director of the PTHA from February 1996 through December 2021 and served as an Owner Director on the PTHA’s Board of Directors. During his tenure, Ballezzi played an integral role in shaping Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry as a fierce advocate for passage of the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development and Gaming Act (Act 71) in 2004.  The legislation legalized slot machines in Pennsylvania and set aside a percentage of the revenue to bolster racing purses and breeding incentives, as well as provide health and pension benefits to individuals in the racing industry.

Ballezzi also was instrumental in negotiations with Parx Racing management that led to significant capital investments in the backstretch, including dorm renovations and the construction of new barns.

At Parx, he also created the Horsemen’s Purchasing Association which provides horsemen on the backstretch with bedding, feed, supplements and equipment at supply-discounted prices. In 2000, he spearheaded the creation of The Granny Fund— named in honor of Catherine “Granny” Youmans, the now-retired PTHA Office Manager and long-time personal secretary to Ballezzi, Connie Youmans—which provides scholarships to Parx stable employees to continue their education in college and night classes.

A graduate of Widener Law School, Ballezzi was an attorney and previously served as a District Justice in Delaware County, Pa., from 1983-1998. He has been a licensed Thoroughbred owner since 1973, is a former trainer, and races under the name of Balmora Farm. He was named 2008 PTHA Man of the Year and he was inducted into the Parx Racing Hall of Fame in 2014.

In addition to serving as Executive Director of the PTHA, Ballezzi was elected nine times as owner-director of the PTHA Board of Directors. He also served as a member of the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Board of Directors and was recognized in 2020 by the THA for outstanding service to the racing industry. He was honored in 2019 by Parx when the track created the M.P. Ballezzi Appreciation Mile in recognition of his service to all horsemen and women at Parx.

(Photo courtesy of PTHA)