Maryland racing fans might have seen a world record set at Laurel on Saturday, and didn't even know it.
It was set by the fastest horse in the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash, and that horse didn't even win the race.
For a sheer, dazzling, devastating turn of speed, it would be hard to top the second quarter of the 6-furlong race run by Safely Kept.
It just might have been the fastest second quarter of a 6-furlong race ever run, if such records were kept. Technically, it didn't mean that much since Safely Kept lost the race. But for sheer speed, she proved once again, she's tough to touch.
The unlucky mare was virtually eliminated at the start when the latch was sprung and she was left resting her derriere on the back of the starting gate.
"It took three men to load her and when we did get her in the gate, she was acting kind of crabby and stood sort of hunched over," said Laurel's starter, Eric Blind. "She acted like she might be horsing [in heat]."
Blind said she then settled, but just as he punched the button to open the doors, Safely Kept fell back against the gate and he heard her jockey Corey Black yell to delay the start.
"It was just bad timing, something that happened in a fraction of a second," Blind said. In the vernacular of the track, it was just plain poor racing luck.
When Safely Kept did leave the gate, there was daylight between her and the rest of the field. Seldom when a horse is left so badly at the start, can it gain contact with the field, much less with the fastest sprinters in the country.
But that is exactly what Safely Kept did. Essentially, she gave a seven-length head start to the quickest horses in training, and still beat half of them.
Here is how the fractions broke down, using the accepted yardstick that one length equals one fifth of a second.
Pace-setter Bravely Bold ran the first quarter in 21 3/5 seconds. He is the horse that held on gamely after setting quick early fractions, but tragically broke his leg and fell about 30 yards from the finish. Last-place Safely Kept was seven lengths behind him after the first two furlongs, and ran her first quarter in 23 seconds.
But between the half-mile and quarter poles, she essentially flew, moving from last into third place, just 2 1/2 lengths behind Bravely Bold.
Bravely Bold ran the half mile in 43 4/5 seconds, getting his second quarter in 22 1/5 seconds. But Safely Kept went a full second faster. She made up 4 1/2 lengths, caught the field and passed half of them.
She ran the half mile in 44 1/5 seconds, or the second quarter in 21 1/5 seconds.
After that, she couldn't sustain that kind of raw speed. She slowed down considerably in the stretch, beaten by 6 1/2 lengths at the wire. She ran the six furlongs in 1:09 4/5, getting her last quarter in 25 3/5 seconds.
Her projected quarter-mile times were 23, 21 1/5, 25 3/5 seconds, if my arithmetic is correct.
By way of comparison, the winning Housebuster, who rated off the pace set by Bravely Bold, went his quarters in a more balanced and leisurely pace in 22, 22 1/5 and 24 2/5 seconds. After getting his first quarter in 22 seconds, he went the half mile in 44 1/5 seconds, getting his second quarter in 22 1/5 seconds, a full second slower than Safely Kept. But then he had plenty of power left at the finish, getting the six furlongs in 1:08 3/5 after running the last quarter in 24 2/5 seconds, a second and fifth faster than Safely Kept.
It was an erratic, "throw out" race for Safely Kept. It would have been a wasted effort, except she picked up $30,000 for third place, which pushed her career earnings over $2 million.
Housebuster returned to form. But the question of which horse is best was not resolved because of the inequitable start.
Hopefully, the two horses will meet in another race, presumably the Breeders' Cup Sprint. In the meantime, Safely Kept is expected to start once again in the Maryland Million Distaff Handicap.
Looking at the kind of quarter-mile fraction she threw in against males in the De Francis Dash, she will be able to get left a quarter mile in the Maryland Million, and still win.
In other words, bet the house on her at Pimlico in September.