Among the ranks of big Australian punters, during the times when wagering on horse races often attracted an element of society not noted for exemplary scruples, Percival John Galea, a.k.a. “Perce” and “The Prince,” left his inimitable, indelible mark on the Sport of Kings in Australia.
Born 26 October 1910 in Malta, one of 10 children, his family immigrated to Australia around 1912, settling near Sydney. Perce began his punting career as early as 1924. Working as a newsboy outside Central Railway Station, he used his earnings to place small wagers.
By 1926, he was employed as a milk man, and had his first taste of the good fortune that was to follow him for the rest of his life.
This good fortune took the form of one of Galea’s customers by the name of Rodney Bangor who happened to be the owner of none other than Peter Pan. Perce took Bangor’s tip to back Peter Pan in the 1934 Melbourne cup, for which he earned a $150 payday, a considerable sum in those times.
For the next several years leading up to World War II, he was employed as a wharf labourer. The outbreak of World War II up to around 1948 saw him occupying the role of a registered bookmaker for the Wentworth Park greyhound races, along with running baccarat “schools” with Samuel Lee and a man with criminal connections, Sid Kelly.
Galea placed a $2,500 investment in Lee’s company in 1949 and given the title of director, worked as a host and manager in Lee’s restaurant. It was during this time, 1952, that he had a brush with the law over the purchase of black-market beer. He went on to become co-owner and manager of a nightclub in Elizabeth Bay called the Roslyn Social Club. The club was raided by the police in 1953 and produced 46 arrests. Galea was fined a small amount for running an illegal gambling house, from which he learned a lesson of the benefit supplied from the right amount of money placed in the proper hands. The authorities never bothered him again with the exception of a run in with the taxation commissioner over his understatement of his income between 1955 to 1963.
Galea was experiencing some financial difficulties when Lady Luck smiled on him again and bestowed $12,000 in the form of lottery winnings. This is when his punting career took off.
He took enough prize money to buy his first race horse in 1961. He regularly plunged large sums in what could have been considered as a sign of a compulsive gambler, but he adhered to the old adage that you don’t have a gambling problem if you’re winning. Even after suffering a heart attack in 1962, he continued to wager big, plunging as much as $25,000 on a single race.
1964 produced his best year as a horse owner. His horse, Eskimo Prince, won the STC Golden Slipper Stakes, bringing Galea something in the neighborhood of $33,000. He very nearly touched off a riot, when receiving an enthusiastic welcome afterward, he began tossing bank notes to the crowd.
Eskimo Prince also took the Rosehill Guineas and the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes, bringing Galea great sums to add to his tote, however, he reputedly gave $40,000 back when Eskimo Prince failed to place in the AJC Derby.
The third stroke of luck to grace Galea bore an eerie resemblance to that experienced in 1960 by Melbourne Mick Bartley. Perce, in 1975, cached $200,000 from the Sydney Opera House lottery.
Perhaps to make up for the undesirable elements in his life, Galea made generous donations to the Catholic church in Sydney as well as staging an annual party for the less fortunate.
Galea was elected a provisional member of the Australian Jockey club in 1976, which somewhat smacks of irony given Galea’s past associations.
Percival John Galea suffered another heart attack in 1977, died, and was buried in Botany cemetery.
He left behind an estate worth over $400,000, along with a reputation of being a good friend, admired by his fellow punters and feared by bookmakers.