BALTIMORE — Amid the fawning over Orb’s Kentucky Derby victory and the feverish talk of a Triple Crown, Shug McGaughey, the colt’s sage trainer, cautioned on the eve of Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, ‘‘There are a lot of ways to lose, as we all know.’’
McGaughey proved prophetic.
With Orb, the odds-on-favorite, never hitting his vaunted stride amid a thicket of contenders, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens seized an early lead aboard 15-to-1 contender Oxbow and was never seriously challenged, riding the bay colt to victory in the 138th Preakness Stakes.
Itsmyluckyday finished second, 1¾ lengths back, followed by Mylute, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, who was bidding to become the first female jockey to win the Preakness.
Oxbow’s victory over the 1 3/16-mile distance, in 1 minute 57.54 seconds, means that there won’t be a Triple Crown winner for a 35th consecutive year. No horse has swept the sport’s three classics — the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes — since Affirmed in 1978.
‘‘I get paid to spoil dreams!’’ exulted Oxbow’s Hall of Fame trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, 77, who now boasts more Triple Crown race wins (14) than any trainer in history.
Oxbow’s romp in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown also added to the prodigious trophy case of the 50-year-old Stevens, who returned in January after having retired in 2005.
‘‘To win a Classic at 50 years old, after seven years of retirement — it doesn’t get any better than this,’’ said Stevens.
By all indications, Orb was the horse to beat. The bay colt flashed impressive closing speed in winning the Kentucky Derby by 2½ lengths, surging from 17th to first over the final half-mile. The Derby was Orb’s fifth consecutive victory, and he showed no ill effects leading into the Preakness.
The only knock against Orb was the fact that the horse drew the No. 1 post. But with just nine starters in the Preakness (compared to the 19 in the Derby), it seemed unlikely that starting on the inside would pose a serious handicap.
Orb broke well, but Oxbow seized the early lead, with Goldencents behind.
At the half-mile mark, Stevens was incredulous. Itsmyluckyday was behind him, having gone four-wide around the first turn, but didn’t appear to be gaining ground. And though Stevens kept expecting Orb to challenge — particularly if jockey Joel Rosario managed to get him out wide, free of traffic — the Derby winner never did.
‘‘When I hit the half-mile pole, I said, ‘Are you kidding me? Is this happening?’ ” Stevens recounted. ‘‘The race was over at that point. I just walked the dog to the half-mile pole.’’
Once Oxbow got out front and got into a nice rhythm, Stevens focused on keeping his mount happy rather than telling him what to do. Orb, by contrast, never appeared at ease in traffic.
‘‘He was just never real comfortable once he got down in there,’’ McCaughey said. ‘‘I’m disappointed.’’
In the joyful aftermath, Lukas didn’t commit to running Oxbow in the June 8 Belmont Stakes, the most grueling leg of the Triple Crown, but gave every indication that he felt his horse had plenty left to give.
Stevens relished the prospect.
‘‘Anybody that wants to come and tangle with him early on, bring it on,’’ Stevens said of Oxbow. “You’re going to get in trouble if you tangle with him.’’
Lukas won his sixth Preakness to move one behind Robert Wyndham Walden for most wins in the second leg of the Triple Crown but this victory was a long time coming for the dean of trainers. The last time he won a Triple Crown race was the 2000 Belmont with Commendable.
Lukas was tied with ‘‘Sunny Jim’’ Fitzsimmons for most Triple Crown wins before Saturday.
“I shared that record with a very special name,’’ Lukas said. ‘‘If I never broke it, I was proud of that. But I’m also proud to have it.’’