By Steve Ginsburg
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Shug McGaughey, the soft-spoken trainer of Kentucky Derby champion Orb, admits he thinks of what it would be like to saddle a Triple Crown champion.
He knows it's premature to be thinking like that. He just can't help it.
"I try to block it out, but if you're in this position, anybody would think about it," he said. "Of course, you get reminded of it quite often.
"It's a thrilling thought, but we've got to get by Saturday. If we get by Saturday, it'll be quite an interesting three weeks."
Orb needs to win the 138th running of the Preakness Stakes on Saturday to have a chance at becoming just the 12th Triple Crown champion and first since Affirmed in 1978.
There are few doubters - even among rival trainers and jockeys - that Orb is the best horse in the nine-horse, $1 million race at time-worn Pimlico Race Course.
Orb is the morning line, even-money favorite following his 2 1/2 length, come-from-behind victory over a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby two weeks ago. The Kentucky-bred bay, who will break from the inside post on Saturday, has won five straight races, including all four starts in 2013.
A victory on Saturday would put Orb in position to try and complete the Triple Crown at the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes in New York on June 8.
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who is saddling Will Take Charge, Titletown Five, and Oxbow in the Preakness, conceded that Orb is the favorite because of his Derby run.
He said, however, it's too early to pronounce the son of Malibu Moon a superhorse and believed Orb and his red-hot jockey Joel Rosario could be beaten.
"In racing we're really quick to say there are bad horses and equally quick to anoint them as great horses and bronze them and put them in the infield," Lukas, a five-time Preakness winner, told reporters at the Pimlico Stakes Barn.
"If it was that easy, you guys wouldn't be here. You'd be betting on them and going home and getting a plane to the Bahamas. It's not a mail-in deal."
Mylute, ridden by Rosie Napravnik, is the 5-1 second choice in the morning line, followed by Illinois Derby winner Departing at 6-1, and Santa Anita Derby champion Goldencents at 8-1.
Napravnik, who will break from the five hole, cautioned against believing the Preakness is a one-horse race but admitted, "I'll have my eye on Orb."
"He'll be inside of me, which I like," she said. "His race in the Derby was extremely impressive. And I know that for sure because I watched him the whole way.
"We followed him right around there," she added with a smile.
Should Orb win the Preakness, Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey believes the colt would have little problem with the length of the Belmont Stakes, a distance that has dashed many Triple Crown dreams.
"It's not like you worry about him getting the mile-and-a-half," he told Reuters. "I wouldn't be worried of him being spent after the Preakness just because of the way Shug McGaughey brings them to races.
"He didn't play his entire hand out just to make the Kentucky Derby. Only because the horse was doing so well in his last couple of races prior to that did he even consider going.
"So the horse could conceivably be on the way up."
Bob Baffert, like Lukas a five-time Preakness winner, will send Sunland Derby winner Govenor Charlie, a 12-1 choice, to the post on Saturday.
He said only time will tell if Orb is Triple Crown worthy, especially since rivals jockeys will be stalking him through the mile-and-three-16th Preakness.
"They're watching him," he said. "They know he's the horse to beat. You're at the mercy of the other riders.
"But I'll tell you what, Rosario he might come out and put that horse in the lead. You never know what he's going to do."
(Editing by Frank Pingue)