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Perce Galea: The Prince
Amongst the ranks of the great Australian punters, during the times when betting on horse races often attracted an element of society not noted for exemplary scruples, Percival John Galea, or “Perce” and “The Prince,” left his indelible mark, indelible on the Sport of Kings in Australia.
Born 26 October 1910 in Malta, one of 10 children, his family emigrated to Australia around 1912, settling near Sydney. Perce began his punting career as early as 1924. Working as a newsboy outside the Central Railway Station, he used his winnings to place small wagers.
By 1926, he was employed as a milkman, and had his first taste of the good fortune that was to follow him for the rest of his life.
This good fortune came in the form of one of Galea’s customers called Rodney Bangor who happened to be the owner of none other than Peter Pan. Perce led Bangor to support Peter Pan in the 1934 Melbourne cup, for which he earned a day’s pay of $150, a considerable sum in those times.
For the next few years leading up to the Second World War, he was employed as a wharf labourer. At the start of the Second World War until about 1948 he took on the role of registered bookie 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 upon receiving the title of director, worked as a host and manager at Lee’s restaurant. During this period, 1952, he had a brush with the law for buying black market beer. He went on to become the co-owner and manager of a nightclub in Elizabeth Bay called Roslyn Social Club. The club was raided by the police in 1953 and 46 arrests were made. Galea was fined a small amount for running an illegal gambling house, and learned a lesson of the benefit given from the right amount of money placed in the appropriate hands. The authorities never bothered him again except for a clash with the taxation commissioner over the under-declaration of his income between 1955 and 1963.
Galea was experiencing some financial difficulties when Lady Luck smiled on him again and gave him $12,000 in lottery winnings. This is when his punting career began.
He took enough prize money to buy his first racehorse in 1961. He regularly plunked down large sums in what might have been seen as the sign of a compulsive gambler, but he stuck to the old adage that you don’t have a gambling problem if you win. Even after suffering a heart attack in 1962, he continued to gamble big, plunking as much as $25,000 on one 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 almost touched a riot, when he was given a standing ovation afterwards, he started throwing paper money into the crowd.
Eskimo Prince also took the Rosehill Guineas and the AJC Sires’ Produce Stakes, bringing Galea big sums to add to his tote, however he reportedly handed back $40,000 when Eskimo Prince failed to place in the AJC Derby.
The third stroke of luck for Galea’s race was similar to that experienced in 1960 by Melbourne’s Mick Bartley. In 1975, Perce pocketed $200,000 from the Sydney Opera House lottery.
Perhaps to compensate for the unpleasant elements in his life, Galea made generous donations to the Catholic church in Sydney as well as holding 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 connections.
Percival John Galea suffered another heart attack in 1977, died, and was buried in Botany cemetery.
He left an estate worth over $400,000, along with a reputation as a good friend, admired by fellow punters and feared by bookies.
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