04/01/2007 11:00PM

An upset worth recounting


ARCADIA, Calif. - When it comes to the most accomplished Thoroughbred generations, few stand the test of time better than the crop of 3-year-olds roaming the land half a century ago. Led by Bold Ruler, Round Table ,and Gallant Man, they dominated the debate from the drop of the flag, making 1957 one of the most memorable seasons on record.

The Big Three were nice enough, though, to leave a few notable crumbs. Iron Liege beat all three in the Kentucky Derby, when Bill Shoemaker misjudged the winning post aboard Gallant Man. In the fall, the proud 5-year-old Dedicate won the Woodward at the expense of both Gallant Man and Bold Ruler. And early in the season, Round Table was humbled in the Santa Anita Derby by a colt from Washington who went by the name of Sir William.

With the 70th running of the Santa Anita Derby approaching on Saturday, the golden anniversary of Sir William's upset is worth an appreciative look, if only as a reminder that anything can happen in a horse race, and usually does.

At the time, Round Table was not the fearsome animal he would become, but he was impressive enough. Making his first start for owner Travis Kerr and trainer Bill Molter after being purchased from Claiborne Farm, Round Table was the leading edge of a four-horse Molter entry held at 13-10.

Additional numbers of significance were the purse of $143,000 and the crowd of 54,379, who by then were all on very familiar terms with Sir William. Run on March 2, the Santa Anita Derby was his sixth start of the meet, following a win in the Los Feliz and a second in the San Felipe. His trainer, Cecil Jolly, wanted jockey Eric Guerin for the Santa Anita Derby but ended up with Hank Moreno, who was best known for his upset of Native Dancer aboard Dark Star in the Kentucky Derby of 1953.

Moreno died earlier this year and Jolly has been gone for some time, along with Sir William's owner, Herb Armstrong. That leaves Bill Peterson, Sir William's groom, as the man who can pick up the tale and run with it.

Referring to Peterson as a groom is accurate enough, but it is kind of like calling Jack Kennedy a Navy ensign without fleshing out the details. In March of 1957, Peterson was on the verge of commencing his own career as a trainer. Like Sir William, he was Washington-born and -raised.

"And don't forget Joe Baze, the father of Russell Baze," Peterson said. "He was galloping Sir William for us at the time."

Peterson, who says he doesn't feel like he's 76, lives in Boise, Idaho, now and has been retired from training for some 20 years. Although admittedly not a household name, he left a significant imprint on the sport.

"What I'm most proud of right now," Peterson said this week, "other than my two sons, is the fact that I trained the great-great-granddams of two out of the last three Kentucky Derby winners."

Darned if he didn't. Peterson trained Natashka, a daughter of Dedicate, to win the 1966 Alabama Stakes and Monmouth Oaks. She went on to produce Ivory Wand, who produced Touch of Greatness, the dam of Elusive Quality, the sire of Smarty Jones.

Also in 1966, the loaded Peterson barn boasted Spearfish, a Fleet Nasrullah filly who won the Hollywood Oaks and the Santa Susana (now Santa Anita Oaks). Spearfish's second foal was King's Bishop, the sire of La Reine Rouge, the dam of La Ville Rouge, the dam of Barbaro.

"Sir William was a big, strong colt, but not that sound," Peterson recalled. "The track for the Santa Anita Derby that year came up muddy and real sticky, like we don't see anymore. But he could handle that stuff. And I'm not sure Round Table was at his very best, since it was his first start in California after he was sold. But because he was considered an underdog, Sir William was pretty popular with the crowd."

As he walked to the track with Sir William and Moreno, Peterson looked up at the rider and predicted, "Hank, this colt is going to put you back on the map." Sir William made good on the promise, beating Swirling Abbey and Round Table in a three-horse photo. The track was bad enough that they needed 1:54.20 to get the mile and one-eighth.

At the time, Peterson was engaged to Jolly's daughter Sandy. In the wake of the Santa Anita Derby, Peterson went on record hoping for a honeymoon in Louisville, alongside his new bride and Sir William for the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately, Sir William shattered both sesamoids in his left fore in a little race at Bay Meadows, just 20 days after his Santa Anita heroics. Peterson slept on a cot outside the colt's stall for weeks until Sir William was pronounced well enough to travel to a farm for retirement to stud.

"There were vets who said we should have put him down," Peterson said. "But he was like Barbaro. He had a great heart and a great attitude, and he really wanted to make it."

In 2006, Sir William was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame. And the Petersons did take that honeymoon, only it was to Sun Valley, Idaho, instead of Churchill Downs.