Perce Galea Big Punter
Percival John Galea, Commonly Known As “Perce” Or “The Prince.”
Historical accounts of Australian horse racing are fond of chronicling the lives and times of many of the various participants in the sport, whether it was one of the numerous champion thoroughbreds that have left a legacy of great galloping, jockeys who could cause odds to plunge merely by having their names on the programme or trainers who seemingly had the Midas touch when it came to getting the optimum performance from their occasionally temperamental charges, human or equine.
For pure entertainment value, however, it is hard to surpass the accounts of the men who have added their unique stamps to the Sport of Kings via their punting exploits, sometimes offering a sense of awe due to the vast sums of money they spent in pursuit of their goals and at other times offering a much needed sense of comic relief. Perce Galea
One of the big punters who filled these roles for the racing public exists in the story of Percival John Galea, commonly known as “Perce” or “The Prince.”
Perce Galea was one of 10 children of a family from Malta that came to Australia about two years subsequent to Perce’s birth on 26 October 1910. He developed an affinity for wagering on the horses at an early age.
He was but 14 in 1924 when he was using his meager earnings as a newsboy stationed outside the Central Railway Station to place small wagers. Just two years later, he found employment as a milk man and first tasted the good fortune that was to characterize his life.
One of his customers was Rodney Bangor, the owner of Peter Pan. Perce was tipped by Bangor to back Peter Pan in the 1934 Melbourne Cup, earning for Perce Galea the at-the-time considerable sum of 150 pounds when Peter Pan did indeed win the race.
Perce Galea next found work on the docks, but from when World War II broke out until somewhere near the end of the 40s, he could more readily be found in his role as a bookmaker for the WentworthPark greyhound races.
Perce Galea was also known to run “schools” involving baccarat in association with Monsieur Samuel Lee and another man of dubious reputation, Sid Kelly.
It was in 1949 that Galea invested 2500 pounds in Lee’s company. He was given the title of director and worked as the manager in a restaurant that Lee had established. Perce Galea had a run-in with the law a couple of years later, 1952, when he was caught up in a scheme regarding the purchase of non-government sanctioned beer.
He next branched out on his own, becoming the co-owner and manager of Elizabeth Bay’s Roslyn Social Club. Police raided the club in 1953, arresting nearly 50 people. Perce Galea was fined for running an illegal gambling house.
The lesson learned by Perce Galea over that event convinced him of the benefit of having the proper connections amongst the authorities, connections that could be facilitated by the prudent spreading of the wealth. He was never again bothered by law enforcement, except for a brush with the omnipotent tax authorities regarding his failing to report his income accurately between 1955 and 1963. It is thought that in all probability, he had not overstated how much he had made.
Lady Luck paid him a visit not long after, delivering 12,000 pounds via a lottery win. This was the stake that funded his punting career.
Perce Galea was sufficiently adept to earn enough money to purchase his first race horse in 1961. He began to exhibit all the tendencies of a compulsive gambler, plunging large sums on a regular basis, with the exception that he was winning regularly as well. Not even a heart attack suffered in 1962 diminished his enthusiasm, and he often wagered as much as 25,000 pound on a single race.
As a horse owner, 1964 would have to undoubtedly be considered Galea’s best year. He had Eskimo Prince at the time that won the Golden Slipper and gave Perce Galea a payday in excess of 30,000 pounds. His exuberance over the win very nearly started a riot when immediately after the race, he started tossing bank notes to the crowd at Rosehill.
Eskimo Prince also delivered the Rosehill Guineas and the Sires’ Produce Stakes, adding greatly to Galea’s winnings, much of which he may have given back when Eskimo Prince could not place in the AJC Derby.
Luck was to favour Perce Galea one more time. In an incident eerily similar to that of Melbourne Mick Bartley in 1960, Perce, in 1975, realized a $200,000 win courtesy of the Sydney Opera House Lottery.
In his more Robin Hood-esque moments, Galea made generous donations to the Catholic Church in Sydney. He also sponsored and paid for an annual paryt for the benefit of the less fortunate.
Legitimacy was conferred on Perce in 1976 when he was made a provisional member of the AJC, something few would have expected given his past disdain for authority.
1977 was to be his final year. Another heart attack that proved fatal was the culprit.
Perce Galea had managed to keep a good deal of his winnings, or at least a substantial sum, $400,000, which was at what his estate was valued. He also left behind a reputation as a loyal friend and he was grudgingly admired by his fellows at the rails, and feared by more than a few as well.