Among the ranks of the Australian high rollers, during the times when horse racing gambling often attracted an element of society not noted for exemplary scruples, Percival John Galea, aka “Perce” and “The Prince “, left his inimitable and indelible mark on the Sport of Kings in Australia.
Born on October 26, 1910 in Malta, one of 10 children, his family emigrated to Australia around 1912, settling near Sydney. Perce began his career playing board games as early as 1924. Working as a newsboy outside the central train station, he used his winnings to place small bets.
In 1926, he was employed as a milkman and had the first experience of good fortune that would follow him for the rest of his life.
This good fortune took the form of one of Galea’s clients by the name of Rodney Bangor, who happened to be the owner of none other than Peter Pan. Perce took Bangor’s advice to back Peter Pan at the 1934 Melbourne Cup. , for which he earned a payday of $ 150, a considerable sum in those days.
During the following years leading up to World War II, he was employed as a dock worker. The outbreak of World War II until around 1948 saw him fill the role of a registered bookie for the Wentworth Park greyhound races, as well as running baccarat “schools” with Samuel Lee and a man with criminal connections, Sid. Kelly.
Galea made a $ 2,500 investment in Lee’s company in 1949 and, given the title of director, worked as a hostess and manager at Lee’s restaurant. It was during this time, 1952, that he had a brush with the law on buying beer on the black market. He then became the 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 about the profit to be made from the right amount of money placed in the right hands. The authorities never bothered him again, except for a run-in with the tax commissioner over the underestimation of his income between 1955 and 1963.
Galea was experiencing some financial difficulties when Lady Luck smiled at her again and awarded her $ 12,000 in the form of lottery winnings. That’s when his punt took off.
He received enough prize money to buy his first racehorse in 1961. He regularly invested large sums in what might have been considered a sign of a compulsive gambler, but he stuck 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 bet big, sinking as much as $ 25,000 in a single run.
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 was on the verge of causing a riot, when he received an enthusiastic welcome afterwards, he began throwing banknotes at the crowd.
Eskimo Prince also snagged AJC Sires’ Rosehill Guineas and Produce Stakes, giving Galea large sums to add to his purse, however he reportedly returned $ 40,000 when Eskimo Prince failed to make it to the AJC Derby.
The third stroke of luck to honor Galea bore an uncanny 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 her life, Galea made generous donations to the Catholic Church in Sydney and hosted an annual party for the less fortunate.
Galea was elected a provisional member of the Australian Jockey Club in 1976, which 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 a property valued at more than $ 400,000, along with a reputation for being a good friend, admired by fellow gamblers and feared by bookmakers.