02/28/2016 6:03PM

Ex-claimer Guns Loaded remains razor-sharp in Joe Hernandez Stakes

Benoit & Associates
Guns Loaded, with Santiago Gonzalez aboard, wins his third race of the meet in the Joe Hernandez Stakes.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Guns Loaded, claimed for $32,000 in December, won for the third time at the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting in Sunday’s $79,170 Joe Hernandez Stakes on the hillside turf course.

The latest victory left trainer Doug O’Neill planning a vacation for the 5-year-old Guns Loaded, who may start once more at the end of the meeting on April 10.

“He deserves a month off,” O’Neill said.

Guns Loaded was claimed from a dirt race at Los Alamitos in December. He won a $40,000 claimer on the hillside turf course on Dec. 27, and was fifth in an optional claimer on the hillside course on Jan. 14. On Feb. 20, Guns Loaded won an optional claimer on the main track in which he was eligible to be claimed for $62,500.

Guns Loaded has earned $108,300 since being claimed for the partnership of Neil Haymes, Leo Rodriguez, Steve Rothblum, and Mark Verge.

In the Hernandez Stakes, Guns Loaded was always near the front under jockey Santiago Gonzalez. Rocket Heat led by as many as four lengths, through early fractions of 21.32 seconds for a quarter-mile and 43.14 for a half-mile.

Guns Loaded was second until the field crossed the main track and reached the turf oval. Guns Loaded led by a head with a furlong to go and pulled away to win by 2 1/4 lengths despite drifting to the inside late. Guns Loaded was timed in 1:12.60.

Rocket Heat finished second in his fourth stakes appearance of the meeting. He was third in the Grade 3 Daytona Stakes on the hillside on Dec. 26, second in the Clocker’s Corner Stakes on the hillside on Jan. 24, and fourth in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Stakes on the main track on Feb. 7.

Hunt finished third in the Hernandez, followed by Holy Lute, Bench Warrant, Papacoolpapacool, and Home run Kitten.

Guns Loaded, a 5-year-old gelding by D’Wildcat, has won 7 of 25 starts and earned $346,570. Guns Loaded has been claimed four times in his career. He started once for O’Neill in a $32,000 claimer at Del Mar on Nov. 5, and was taken that day by Peter Miller. O’Neill claimed Guns Loaded in his first race back, at Los Alamitos in December.

“We’ve had him before,” O’Neill said. “He’s sound. He went through a period when he wasn’t running as well. We’ve put him on the grass and he’s run huge.”