When Pat Day was Skywalker's jockey, Laffit Pincay noticed that Day seldom used his whip. It didn't take Pincay long, after replacing Day on Skywalker, to discover the reason.
Skywalker made it obvious to Pincay in workouts last week that he doesn't like to be horse-whipped. Skywalker isn't as dumb as he might look.
So before the Santa Anita Derby Saturday, Pincay told Skywalker's trainer, Mike Whittingham, that he wouldn't go to the whip unless it was absolutely necessary.
It soon became absolutely necessary.
If he hadn't used his whip, Pincay might be saying today that Skywalker isn't as fast as he might look.
As it is, Pincay has his seventh Santa Anita Derby victory, tying Bill Shoemaker for the record.
"Shoemaker and Pincay," Pincay said when the record was brought to his attention afterward. "Sounds pretty good to me."
It looked for a few moments Saturday as if Pincay might be stuck on six.
His colt, a 6-5 favorite, was running comfortably with the lead at the quarter pole when he seemed to lose his inspiration. He began to enjoy the scenery.
That allowed Fast Account, a no-account before the race at 25-1, to make his move on the outside and take the lead with a furlong to go.
Left with no other alternative, Pincay went to the left-handed whip.
And braced himself.
Pincay was as surprised as everyone else when Skywalker responded, coming from a length behind on the inside to win by a nose and establish himself as California's leading candidate for the Kentucky Derby.
"My horse is a good horse, but I think he likes competition," Pincay said. "When he came around the turn and had the lead all by himself, he started waiting for the other horses.
"That other horse (Fast Account) was moving pretty fast. When he came up on me, it was either go to the whip or finish behind him."
Pincay said he was concerned that Skywalker might not be so understanding about the whip.
"But what else could I do?" he said.
He was relieved when Skywalker took it like a thoroughbred.
"One day a horse won't like something, the next day it's OK," Pincay said. "Horses are funny like that."
If Fast Account had held on to win, it would have been the second straight race that Skywalker had lost by a nose.
Pincay didn't mind Skywalker's narrow loss in the San Felipe Handicap three weeks ago at Santa Anita because he was riding the winner, Image of Greatness.
Image of Greatness' trainer, Wayne Lukas, sent that colt East to run following the San Felipe. But Lukas thought he had a commitment from Pincay to ride Tank's Prospect, the second favorite at 3-1, in the Santa Anita Derby.
Pincay had second thoughts. He was concerned about the nine weeks off that Tank's Prospect took before Saturday's race. He also was impressed by Skywalker, despite the loss in the San Felipe. Pincay allowed that the horse might have beaten Image of Greatness had Skywalker not begun bleeding internally, probably late in the race.
Fortunately for Pincay, Pat Day decided after finishing second in the San Felipe that he might not be the right rider for Skywalker.
Just as there are horses for courses, there are jockeys for horses.
So Pincay and Whittingham got together.
It turned out to be a wise decision for Pincay, for Tank's Prospect finished last Saturday in the nine-horse field.
Tank's Prospect, owned by former San Diego Charger owner Gene Klein, was named for former NFL star Tank Younger. Even in middle age, Younger probably could have beaten the colt around the track Saturday.
"I didn't know if Skywalker was a better horse than Tank's Prospect," Pincay said. "But there was a question in my mind about Tank's Prospect because he hadn't run in so long. I didn't know if he was a Kentucky Derby horse. I wanted a Derby ride."
He has one now.
There were some questions before this race about Skywalker's bleeding, but the problem apparently was solved before Saturday's race with Lasix, a diuretic. Whereas it is illegal in some states, Lasix can be used in Kentucky.
Pincay, after going 0-10 in the Kentucky Derby, finally broke through last year with a victory on Swale.
Asked if he has a chance to repeat on Skywalker, Pincay shrugged.
"You never know," he said.
But you can't win unless you get there, and Saturday's victory has assured him of that, at least.