When it comes to horse racing, I'm a mug punter. My only real attempt at betting is on the Melbourne Cup and I can count the wins on one hand, er, well, two fingers.
I blame it on my paternal grandparents who were SP bookies and probably put the fear of betting on the gee-gees into me.
But I loved listening to Grandpa talking about watching and betting on Phar Lap and other legends. And like most Aussies, even non-betting ones like myself, I love a good yarn about race horses. They're more interesting than the stories of the colourful owners and trainers or the hoops who ride them.
Let's face it, we live in a country where our race horses are revered as much - or more - than our human sporting heroes. Think Phar Lap who became a movie star and Gunsynd the grey horse who inspired the song The Goondiwindi Grey in 1973.
Australian horse racing has a rich and celebrated history. From Phar Lap and Tulloch to Makybe Diva and Black Caviar, punters around the country endlessly debate the best racehorses across different eras.
In his new book, Immortals of Australian Horse Racing (Gelding Street Press $39.99, September 15), best-selling author Alan J. Whiticker shares the fascinating stories behind Australia's 24 most legendary racehorses.
The book was released to coincide with the spring racing season and the lead-up to the 2021 Melbourne Cup on November 2. I absolutely loved it and I'll happily bet that you will too.
It is the fourth instalment in Gelding Street Press's bestselling Immortals of Australian Sport series.
Phar Lap, Bernborough, Tulloch, Kingston Town, Manikato, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx ... their deeds on the racetrack have gone down in history and their names are known across the country. Crowd favourites Peter Pan, Gunsynd, Surround, Luskin Star, Super Impose, Octagonal, Might and Power, Sunline and Takeover Target are also featured.
And then there are the untold stories of the mighty Carbine, 'super mare' Wakeful, freakish Vain, the tragic Dulcify and underrated Northerly.
Whitiker, a long-time racing fan, was influenced by his race-loving grandfather. His book is full of impressive photographs and statistics about the chosen 24.
"The first 12 horses were easy to pick," he said. "The last 12 were not. I mean, who do you leave out and why? I agonised over the last 12.
"These are horse immortals. Of course you have your Winxes that capture the public attention and they are characters.
"But then you have horses like Surround and Sunline. If you have Sunline, you must have Northerly who beat him.
"Everyone has a favourite horse and it's generally the horse who wins for them. One of my favourites was Manikato who often won for me. Saintly is another one of my favourites but he only lasted four years and wasn't an immortal and running in the Melbourne Cup just isn't always enough."
Immortals of Australian Horse Racing is a must-read for racing fans and history buffs alike.
It's a who's who of Aussie (and Kiwi) horses.
"We have a symbiotic relationship with the Kiwis who have sent great horses our way," Whiticker said.
"I loved writing this book even with the hard decisions facing me. People revere their race horses in Australia and this tells the stories of the greats, the immortals."
The book brought to mind stories my Grandpa told me about the horse greats and I remembered names like Tulloch, Archer, Carbine, Takeover Target, Octagonal, Better Loosen Up and Lonrho.
Just when you thought you knew everything about Phar Lap, think again.
"Phar Lap was a huge star," Whiticker said. "When he died over in America, Australia went into mourning for a horse. It shows the power he had."
Whiticker's agony over picking the greats culminates in the last chapter, Honourable Mentions, and it is here that 20 more familiar names ring out, such as Leilani, Bart Cummings' "sweetheart of Australian racing" who tragically broke down in the 1976 Tancred Stakes.
In each case, he explains why these champions didn't make the cut. In most cases they are not "part of today's wider sporting consciousness."
Alan J. Whiticker is an award-winning author with a stable of books covering sport, history, biography and true crime. He is the author of Don't Die Wondering: The Pat Webster Story (2019), as well as Searching for the Beaumont Children (2006), The History of Rugby League Clubs (2004, with Ian Collis), 101 Great Rugby League Players (2012, with Ian Collis), Classic Albums: The Vinyl that Made A Generation (2018), and The State of Origin Companion (2020).