07/30/2014 12:55PM

Jerardi: Borislow was larger than life


I heard about the man with the giant bankroll long before I met him. Sometime in the 1990s, stories were being told about this mystery bettor at Parx Racing who had his own room and teller at the track. The handle numbers I was hearing sounded impossible.

When Toccet became a serious 2-year-old in the fall of 2002, I figured it was time to meet the owner – Philadelphia native Dan Borislow, the mystery bettor who, it turned out, was not all that mysterious.

When I called to say I wanted to do a story on him and his horse, Borislow told me to meet him at the South Philly Turf Club, a few furlongs from Veterans Stadium. We would hang for a doubleheader – bet some races and then head over to his box at The Vet for Eagles-Giants.

When I walked into the Directors Room, I saw just one teller with a sign that said the window was closed. Well, it was closed – to everybody but Borislow.

He was betting $50 cold superfectas when I arrived (I think it was Keeneland), and it went on from there. It turned out the handle numbers I had heard were not impossible. I lost count quickly. I have no memory of whether he won or lost, just that he was betting insane amounts of money.

We got to his box at The Vet not long before the game. I will never forget one man in the box turning the channel as one of the early games neared its conclusion, saying he had $100 on the game.

Keith Jones, the hockey player and a very good friend of the box owner, suggested that he might not want to change the channel since the man hanging calmly in the front of the box had $200,000 on the game he just switched off. Yes, that would be Borislow, too.

Again, I have no memory of who won the game or even which side Borislow had. He did not seem concerned. It was just more action.

Borislow was an incredibly successful entrepreneur with Tel Save (long-distance service) and magicJack (Internet long-distance calls). I have zero doubt that he could be very difficult to deal with in business. He certainly had a reputation. No chance the suits in the boardrooms liked him.

I never saw that side of him. I just saw a guy who loved to gamble and had a big enough bankroll that fear was not in his vocabulary.

When word came early last week that Borislow had died of a heart attack, I thought first of his family – his wife, Shelly; son, Danny; and daughter, Kylie – all of whom had spent time in the box at The Vet and later at Lincoln Financial Field.

I knew the gambler well, the family man less well. Jones knew both very well.

“He was such a great father to his two kids,” Jones told me. “He was always concerned where they were, how they were getting there, all the stuff we do as parents. As crazy and off the wall as he could be at times, he was always a great dad.”

While everybody was finalizing Rainbow 6 tickets on the day before Memorial Day, Borislow snuck in and took the $6.7 million by overwhelming the pool. He sent me texts of his winning tickets with a classic Borislow semi-smirk.

The first call I got after the Belmont Stakes this year was not from someone lamenting California Chrome’s loss. It was from Borislow telling me he had $200,000 to win on Tonalist. He texted me pictures of those tickets, too, spread all over a table.

“You can’t live life any better than he did,” Jones said. “And I don’t think you could be kinder behind the scenes than he was. He was that kind of guy that came across as gruff and grumpy, and then the next thing, he would be helping somebody that would have surprised you if you ever found out. We lost a good one.”

If you were out with Borislow, it was never going to be quiet. Jones remembered “taking private jets to Las Vegas or to L.A. to watch the Sixers [in the NBA Finals] and renting a private island in the middle of the Caribbean.”

Borislow, only 52 when he died, was never cheated in life.

“The stories about him will go on forever,” Jones said. “He created almost like a fantasy world. You felt like you were floating on air when you were hanging around that guy.”

I only saw snapshots of what Jones saw, but he is not wrong.