Updated on 09/17/2011 12:04PM

Best game in the world

John Greco
Joe Hirsch peers down from the Churchill Downs press box at the 1997 Derby.

NEW YORK - I feel I'm the luckiest feller in the world. I fell in love with racing 50 years ago and have had the glorious opportunity of making it my life's work.

Now, at 75, I'm retiring. I no longer have the physical strength necessary to do a proper job. But my strong feeling for racing remains, and I will continue to enjoy it from the sidelines.

What I like most about racing is the high level of competition. When good horses get together, they are capable of putting on a show that is uniquely stirring. I've seen exciting Super Bowl games and dramatic World Series, but they haven't moved me the way Sunday Silence and Easy Goer did as they battled through the stretch in the unforgettable Preakness of 1989 won by Sunday Silence in a nose decision.

If I live to be 100, I doubt I will ever witness a more thrilling duel than the one staged by Princess Turia and Doubledogdare in the Kentucky Oaks of 1956, with the clubfooted Princess Turia the courageous winner by a nose.

For sheer drama, it would be hard to top Personal Ensign's last-stride victory over Kentucky Derby heroine Winning Colors in the Breeders Cup Distaff of 1988, unless you had seen John Henry's remarkable effort to catch The Bart in the magnificent inaugural running of the Arlington Million in 1981.

For intense competition my model will always be Affirmed's desperate effort to edge Alydar in the Belmont Stakes of 1978. But I couldn't argue much with those who prefer Jaipur's decision over Ridan in the Travers Stakes of 1962 or Tiznow's gallant victory over Giant's Causeway in the Breeders' Cup Classic of 2000.

The Thoroughbred is the most generous of animals and willingly gives everything when asked. I never saw two horses try any harder than You and Carson Hollow in Saratoga's Test Stakes of 2002, with You the winner by a nose. The effort was so demanding that both were off form the remainder of the year. But the effort was extraordinary, and humbling in retrospect.

That is what racing has meant to me, and I've loved every minute of it.