03/08/2011 3:37PM

San Felipe to be major test for Awesome Patriot

Benoit & Associates
Awesome Patriot (right), Rafael Bejarano up, wins a Dec. 29 Hollywood Park allowance.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Terry Lanni has been a horse owner for nearly five decades, won a Breeders’ Cup race with Silic in 1999 and has trophies several other major stakes.

It hardly prepared him for the scene after Game On Dude won the Santa Anita Handicap in a 14-1 upset last Saturday. Game On Dude prevailed by a nose but was the subject of a 12-minute inquiry regarding a bumping incident in early stretch. Eventually, the stewards did not change the order of finish, and Lanni and partners Ernie Moody and Bernie Schiappa lined up for a photo finish, having already positioned themselves in and around the winner’s circle.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to go down there,” Lanni said of the winner’s circle. “The 10- to 12-minute wait seemed more like 10 to 12 days. It could have gone either way.”

Lanni said that Game On Dude provided him and Schiappa with their 10th Grade 1 win in partnership, along with four Grade 2 wins and four Grade 3 wins. They will be after another win when Awesome Patriot starts in the $250,000 San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.

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The Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes is a vital prep for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9. Awesome Patriot, who like Game On Dude, is trained by Bob Baffert, must run well in the San Felipe to advance to the Santa Anita Derby, or a certain Derby in Kentucky in May.

Awesome Patriot caught Lanni and Baffert’s eye at the 2009 Keeneland September yearling sale, where the Awesome Again colt was purchased for $350,000.

“Bob said, ‘What do you think?’ ” Lanni recalls. “I said, ‘Let’s buy him.’ I named him after John McCain. He’s a good friend of mine. I bought another horse at the sale. I’ll name him Endless Workouts. He’ll be coming along.”

Awesome Patriot has won 2 of 4 starts, including an allowance race over a mile here on Dec. 29, his most recent start. The colt was third in the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes over seven furlongs on Nov. 10.

Awesome Patriot will be a longshot in a field led by Jaycito, the winner of the Grade 1 Norfolk Stakes last October; Comma to the Top, who won the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity in December; as well as Albergatti, Bench Points, Jakesam, Premier Pegasus, Runflatout and Surrey Star.

Lanni, 67, the retired chairman of the MGM-Mirage casino company, recalls buying his first horse at 22, and following horses owned by his father, Anthony. Silic’s win in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Mile is a highlight of Terry Lanni’s stable, along with campaigning the turf miler Ladies Din.

Game On Dude, who was ridden by Chantal Sutherland, was the second horse he started in the Santa Anita Handicap, following Just Java, who was third in 1996. “It’s always been a special race since my dad raced here,” he said.

Lanni admits that he was surprised by his reaction to Game On Dude’s win. “It’s the first time I’ve kissed a jockey after a race,” he said.