12/27/2010 9:37AM

Malibu Mach Go Go

Email

That whirring sound coming from the southern tip of New York's Otsego County is Spectacular Bid spinning -- okay, be cute -- twirling in his grave. The ground may be covered with snow, but he's down there, a restless soul, wondering what he ever did to deserve the dissing dealt his memory on Sunday at Santa Anita, when a very nice horse named Twirling Candy and a very nice sprinter named Smiling Tiger BOTH broke Bid's 30-year-old track record for 7 furlongs in the Malibu Stakes.

Going in, it was clear it would take a giant effort to for any of the 3-year-olds involved to come out on top. This version of the Malibu was the deepest since the opening-day running in 2004, when Rock Hard Ten beat Lava Man. But to suggest that it would require the second coming of Spectacular Bid to get the job done would have gotten you cut off at the local tavern. Then the timer struck 1:19.70, shading Spectacular Bid's 1:20, with Twirling Candy beating Smiling Tiger a nose, and racing had another wrinkle to explain to those for whom history means anything at all.

In this case, all eyes turned toward the freshly laid Santa Anita main track, purportedly 90 percent sand and 10 percent clay, with apparently an unreported a dash of Flubber tossed in at the last minute to make things interesting. Earlier on the program, a maiden son of War Front named The Factor set a track record for 6 furlongs, winning off in 1:06.98. Among the horses to have run 6 furlongs at Santa Anita and not gone that fast were Native Diver, Ack Ack, Ancient Title, Chinook Pass, Viking Spirit and Phone Trick. The reaction to that obscene clocking gave rise to some good cracks, including one from colleague Brad Free, who revealed late in the day that the "raw, overnight Beyer" for The Factor's performance was -- and now this is just an early estimate folks before all the facts were in -- 150.

Time continues to be taken seriously by American fans and American racetrack operators because it's the very American thing to do. The relative uniformity of American tracks -- oval, left-handed, flat straights and banked turns, dirtish -- encourages the illusion that 6 furlongs is 6 furlongs and a mile is a mile run here, there and everywhere, and so American records set in Chicago are willingly recognized in Miami, or Seattle, or wherever that distance is run.

The wise men Beyer, Brown and Ragozin have nobly attempted to provide context to raw time figures with their various methodologies, and to a large extent the tyranny of the clock has been tamed because of their work. However, nothing can modify the reality of time passed, only the preception of that reality (compare, say, a three-hour Godfather film to 90 minutes of Adam Sandler and get back to me).  One minute, six and ninety-eight hundredths of a second will always and forever be one minute, six and ninety-eight hundredths of a second, and the toll taken on the physiology of the creature moving through space and over hard ground during that time is as visceral as taking a hammer to a piece of meat.

Between The Factor's silly six and the Malibu's monster seven, four skydivers descended upon the Santa Anita main track, their parachutes emblazoned with "Red Bull" (the breakfast drink of champions) and smoke trailing from their heels, brought to fans by the Dept. of You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet. Meanwhile, up in his booth at the top of the stretch, track superintendent Rich Tedesco was banging his head against the desktop, knowing full well that too fast is just plain too fast when it comes to protecting the frail infrastructure of the Thoroughbred racehorse from his own natural instincts to flee. He also knows that horses like Spectacular Bid don't come along every 30 years.

"With all the rain we had, the most important thing was protecting the base," Tedesco pointed out, referring to the more than 13 inches dumped on the area in the week previous. "I'm sure we could have opened it a little more, so now we can adjust. But you can't have horses going that fast. You just can't."

Unless they are Spectacular Bid.