I understand that in the Maliki school there is less reliance on isolated ahadith, much more emphasis on amal of the people of Medina. This does explain why Imam Malik did not act on sahih ahadith that reported the Prophet (pbuh) looked at the place of prostration. But why would Imam Malik (ra) need to perform his own ijtihad as to where to look in salat if this was already part of the practice of the people of medina.
In the Maliki school the mashur opinion is that one focus his/her gaze straight ahead without flexing the head or looking at the place of prostration, as if visualizing the Kaba. I believe this was the view of Imam Malik (ra) who according to his ijtihad believed that since the most noble part of a person is the face as is mentioned in the Quran than it should not be lowered i.e. looking down at the place of prostration in prayer. If the normative practice of the Tabieen and Seven jurists of Medina such as Sa`ad ibn Musayyab, was sadl (releasing the hands in prayer) , and gazing straight ahead than why would Malik need to perform ijtihad on where to look in prayer ;was this not already established prior to his time?
Looking straight ahead in prayer is distracting especially if one is in jamat, if one is not in the first row than a person`s gaze would be directed at the person in front, not very comforting. In Malik`s time was it the norm to look staright ahead in prayer?