A one true love of champion horses

Alan J Whiticker
Alan J Whiticker

Sydney Author Alan Whiticker has written many books about rugby, true crime and people, but horses are his real true love, the long-time racing fan says in a phone call from Sydney with Have a Go News.

So it follows that his new book, Immortals of Australian Racing: The Thoroughbreds released in time for the spring racing season is a work of passion.

“I was very interested in horse racing from my teenage years,” Alan said.

“Even though I have written about many things during my writing career – rugby league, some history, with a sidetrack into true crime, being approached by a publisher to do a book on horse racing was a labour of love.”

“I really enjoyed going back and revisiting all those great horses. Many of them I had grown up with. Probably my favourite horse is Manikato. I loved the way he led in his races, how he pushed the other horses out of the way. He had an enormous heart.

“I was about 21 when Kingston Town came on the scene and he could do things other horses couldn’t do; he won sprint races, weight for age races and, with an ounce of luck, he would have won a Melbourne Cup.

“But when people started comparing him to Tulloch and Phar Lap, it makes you as a racing fan and writer go back and say: ‘well, what qualities do these horses have?’ I suppose I have always had an interest in comparing horses from different generations, tapping into the rich history of horse racing in Australia and getting a world view of just how good these horses are.”

Alan, a former school teacher, attributes Australia’s rich history of horse racing to our convict past. 

“I believe in Sydney the first race meeting was 10 years after the colony started. Horses are such beautiful animals. If you don’t love horses there is no point in following horse racing; you have to marvel at just how graceful, strong and courageous these animals are.

“They are such beautiful, timid and shy creatures. I have owned a couple of racehorses but not as good as those in the book. When you dive into the history of horse racing the horses are elite athletes with a rich history, with the Melbourne Cup and Cox Plate the great horse races.

“Let’s face it, horse racing more than cricket, rugby league or AFL unites the country as we all stop on the first Tuesday of November to back and watch a horse race.”

On research, Alan says that over the years he has built up quite a personal library. 

“I was able to tap into that, I have a collection of breeding journals, history books on the Melbourne Cup and great horses of the past. Now, with the wonderful Internet and newspapers digitised, research is much easier, everything is at your fingertips.

“The hardest part of this book was picking the 24 horses, the first 12 picked themselves, but with the next group I had to decide who do you put in and leave out. By going back and looking at some of the great race horses and comparing them with others, who have caught our imagination in the current era, you have to make a judgment.

“I will probably beat myself up about two or three of them, but in the end what I wanted to do was write a book that you didn’t have to be an historian to read; that mums and dads could dive into and enjoy. The statistics, the stories and photographs, the balance is there.

“What you have to do and which I love as a writer is distil everyone’s views into 1500 words saying, this is the essence of the horse, this is why Winx captured the imagination, this is why Phar Lap is so well remembered 80 years after he died, this is why Kingston Town is so special.

“It took me about six months’ research to come up with the 24 horses in the book and find photos with some honourable mentions at the end. Some horses like Luskin Star only had short careers while one of my favourites, Winx, won 33 races in a row. All the horses are special in their own way.”

Alan is an avid collector and a big movie buff. 

“I collect DVDs and CDs which drives my wife mad.

“I hadn’t written a lot about horse racing previously. I did a small book on the Melbourne Cup and one on champion trainer Pat Webster (Don’t Die Wondering: The Pat Webster Story) 2019 but I felt confident to write this book and do it authoritatively.”

Alan says thousands of people around the country depend on horse racing for a living. 

“With Covid, industry bodies have worked hard to keep it going, even without crowds.”

The Immortals of Australian Horse Racing: the Thoroughbreds by Alan J. Whiticker with a foreword by Chris Waller-trainer of Winx (Gelding Street Press, $39.99) is out now.