05/25/2005 12:00AM

The timing was just right for a world record

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AUBURN, Wash. - No sooner had Sabertooth and jockey Nate Chaves crossed the wire in Sunday's 6 1/2-furlong than the chorus began.

"That can't be right," said many of the more knowledgeable members of the big weekend crowd.

The doubters were referring to the times posted on the tote board, which read: 21.80, 43.20, 1:06.40, and 1:13.

First-quarter fractions of 21.80 seconds are common over this lightning-fast track, but one would have to go back a long way to find a half-mile time of 43.20 or a second quarter run in 21.40, if indeed they exist. And nobody anywhere had seen a six-furlong dirt fraction of 1:06.40 or a 6 1/2-furlong final time of 1:13 on dirt, since those clockings are faster than the existing world records of 1:06.60 (set by G. Malleah at Turf Paradise in 1995) and 1:13.24 (Forever Lucky, Hollywood Park, 1995).

The track's vice president, Jack Hodge, quickly called the clocker's room from the winner's circle to confirm the times, but he was informed that the automatic timer had not malfunctioned, the backup system recorded the same times, and the hand-timing of the race was close enough to dispel suspicions that something had gone amiss.

Sabertooth's world record clocking stood, and it was apparently correct.

The astonishing times were the result of a perfect storm of conditions. The Emerald Downs surface is extremely fast to begin with, and it gets even faster when it is sealed because of a threat of rain squalls and contains just the right amount of moisture, as was the case on Sunday.

"This kind of racetrack could perform pretty glibly at this point in time," said Hodge.

The final factor is that Sabertooth is an extraordinarily fast horse. A 7-year-old son of Petersburg and Exit's Baby, by Best Exit, Sabertooth had won the Grade 3 Longacres Mile in 2002, and had just come off a 19-month layoff to show the way through a half-mile in 43.60 in the six-furlong Seattle Handicap, in which he tired late to finish second. Trainer Jim Penney said that effort set him up for the performance of his life.

"I'm not really surprised he ran as well as he did," said Penney. "An old horse like him will tell you how he is doing, and he was doing excellent. I really think he has come back better than he was when he won the Mile.

"He's a bigger horse, a heavier horse, a stronger horse. He has a lot more push to him."

Penney said Sabertooth, who races for Bob and Bruce Sparling, will go next in the $75,000 Budweiser Emerald Downs Handicap at a mile on June 19.

Abundance of talent for Penney

Less than 24 hours before Sabertooth's fireworks, another of Penney's older stars had his chance to shine. Salt Grinder, a 6-year-old son of Salt Lake who races for the Penney family's Homestretch Farms, came off a seven-month layoff to win Saturday's six-furlong allowance feature by a widening five lengths over Prize Weaver. Salt Grinder's clocking was 1:07.60, which equaled the track standard set by Blue Tejano in 2002.

Ignoring a steady rain, Salt Grinder ran his final quarter in 23.40 seconds to prompt the best quote of the meeting from jockey Gallyn Mitchell.

"I went from wet to dry in a quarter of a mile," said the rider.

Sabertooth and Salt Grinder are just half of the Penney barn's forces in this season's handicap division. Dual stakes winner Turban ran a disappointing seventh behind Sabertooth on Sunday, but he was coming off a 21-month layoff and may have needed the race to shake off the rust. And Flamethrowintexan, the champion 3-year-old at last year's Emerald meeting, has been training brilliantly toward his 2005 debut.

Although it is a nice problem to have, Penney acknowledged that he might have difficulty keeping his stable stars apart over the next couple of months.

"I wouldn't really want to run more than two in the same race, but all of them run hard, and they need time between their races," he said. "None of them have to run in every race. We'll see what the owners want to do. They all have different owners, so I've got to treat them as individuals and try to do what is right for each horse."

Ideally, all four horses will arrive at the Grade 3 Longacres Mile on Aug. 21 in their best form, but Penney was reluctant to call that his goal.

"At this point it's more of a dream," he said. "The Mile is still a long way off."

Kerrison assumes media post

Patrick Kerrison has taken over from Grant Clark as director of media relations at Emerald Downs. Clark left to take a position outside racing.

Kerrison, a native of New Jersey, served as director of operations and publicity at Portland Meadows for the last two years. He also worked at The Meadowlands for 3 1/2 years and at Philadelphia Park for two years before moving to the West Coast. He is the son of New york Post racing columnist Ray Kerrison.

* A bill sought by Magna Entertainment, the operator of Portland Meadows, was signed into law by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski last week. The law allows Portland Meadows to conduct simulcast wagering on a year-round basis, and its passage likely ensures that Magna will operate the track next year.