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In Excess still adding to legacy
The deal took 15 minutes and could have been done faster if they’d skipped the small talk.
Mike Pegram vividly remembers his conversation with the late Scoop Vessels in the fall of 1994, negotiating for the stallion In Excess to move to the historic Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, Calif.
The two men knew the arrangement they wanted and made it happen fast.
“We formed a partnership, and the rest is history,” Pegram said earlier this month.
In Excess was in his third year at stud when he was moved to Vessels prior to the 1995 breeding season. Within a decade, In Excess was the leading stallion in California by progeny earnings for the 2002 and 2003 seasons, had sired a Santa Anita Derby winner, and was on his way to siring more than 60 stakes winners in his career.
Last month, In Excess died at the age of 26 of the infirmities of old age at Vessels. He was pensioned from stud duty at the northern San Diego County farm in 2011.
The death of In Excess brought back memories of the horse’s racing and stallion careers from Pegram, Vessels farm manager Kevin Dickson, and Bruce Jackson, who trained In Excess during his highly successful American racing career. Scoop Vessels died in an airplane crash in August 2010.
In Excess almost never made it to the picturesque Vessels property. Pegram was in talks with a Kentucky farm in late 1994 about moving the stallion from owner Jack Munari’s Rancho Why Worry farm in California to the Bluegrass State.
“Before I did the deal with Scoop, I had half the horse sold to Kentucky, but it fell through at the last minute,” Pegram said.
It was not the first time that California’s breeding industry could claim good fortune in having In Excess among its stallions. In the later months of 1991, In Excess, then 4, was at his peak on the track racing in Munari’s colors. He won four consecutive Grade 1 races on the New York circuit – the Metropolitan and Suburban handicaps during the Belmont Park spring-summer meeting, the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, and the Woodward Stakes at Belmont in mid-September.
Jackson took In Excess to Churchill Downs early that fall to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup. In Excess was cross-entered in the BC Classic and the BC Mile on turf, and a decision to go in the Mile was made in the days before the race. Jackson thought In Excess would prefer turf over dirt at Churchill Downs.
“He wouldn’t train on that racetrack,” Jackson said recently.
In Excess struggled in the Mile, finishing ninth as the 2.20-1 favorite, beaten six lengths by the upset winner Opening Verse. With the loss, In Excess missed a chance to be named champion older male and possibly Horse of the Year. Both titles went to Black Tie Affair, who won the Classic later that afternoon.
“It didn’t work out the way it was supposed to,” Jackson said. “He won four Grade 1s in a row. That’s about as good as it gets.”
A Breeders’ Cup win likely would have meant a Kentucky stud career for In Excess. Instead, Munari sent the horse to California at the end of a largely unsuccessful 1992 season in which In Excess went winless in five starts in California and New York. His racing career ended with 11 wins from 25 starts and earnings of $1,736,733.
“I guarantee he wouldn’t have ended up here, being an Eclipse winner,” Dickson said of Vessels Stallion Farm. “I think it’s fate.”
While he can only speculate, Dickson argued that In Excess could have been overshadowed in a crowded Kentucky stallion market.
“I guess if he’d wound up in Kentucky, he might not have gotten the mares,” Dickson said. “He might have been just another stallion in Kentucky.”
One of Jackson’s favorite races of the 1991 season was the Suburban Handicap. In Excess set a track record of 1:58.33 for 1 1/4 miles, a distance that was not his best.
“He ran so many good races,” Jackson said. ”He was probably an outstanding miler, but he could carry his speed further. He had the desire to win. He was a very fast horse.
“A mile and a quarter wasn’t his distance, but he set a track record at Belmont. He got beat in the Strub and the Santa Anita Handicap, and those races were a mile and a quarter. That race at Belmont was different. It starts on the middle of the turn.”
In Excess’s first foals raced in 1996, and early success gave the stallion much-needed momentum in attracting mare owners. His first crop included the champion California-bred 2-year-old In Excessive Bull, who won two stakes and helped make In Excess the state’s leading freshman sire in 1996.
Over the next few years, In Excess’s reputation soared in California. In 1998, his runners were led by Indian Charlie, who raced for breeders Hal and Patti Earnhardt. Indian Charlie won the 1998 Santa Anita Derby and was third, beaten 2 3/4 lengths, by Pegram’s Real Quiet in the Kentucky Derby.
Indian Charlie was raised at Vessels, a point of pride for Scoop Vessels, Dickson said.
“Indian Charlie turned out to be a wonderful horse,” Dickson said. “He was raised here. Scoop used to joke [that] he was raised on Bonsall Bermuda [grass]. They may have Kentucky bluegrass, but we had Bonsall Bermuda.”
Indian Charlie was trained by Bob Baffert, who also trained other stakes-winning In Excess progeny such as In Excessive Bull; Ex Marks the Cop, the champion Cal-bred 2-year-old male of 1997; Pegram’s Gibson County, the champion Cal-bred 2-year-old male of 1999; and Pegram’s Icecoldbeeratreds, the champion Cal-bred 2-year-old male of 2002.
“His early success was [helped by] Baffert,” Pegram said. “I don’t know whether In Excess made Baffert or Baffert made In Excess.”
At the end of 1998, Pegram and Vessels decided to syndicate 50 percent of In Excess, with each keeping 25 percent. “It was a way to take some money off the table,” Pegram said.
The deal kept In Excess in California – and in demand. At one time, In Excess’s stud fee reached $25,000, the highest in the state.
Such a fee would have seemed improbable when he was retired. Bred in Ireland, In Excess was by French 2000 Guineas winner Siberian Express, a son of Caro, whose only other Grade 1 winner from a modest stud career was 1993 Strub winner Siberian Summer. In Excess was out of the winning mare Kantado, by Saulingo. In Excess was Kantado’s only stakes winner from 12 runners. The European bloodlines did not suggest a future leading stallion.
“He proved it against all pedigree odds,” Dickson said. “He wasn’t supposed to be the stallion that he was.”
Pegram sold his share of In Excess in the early 2000s, when he began to focus more on breeding in Kentucky. In a way, In Excess no longer needed Pegram’s support.
“He had already made it,” Pegram said in early June. “Now, I’ve come full circle. I’m sending mares back to California.”
Through the 2000s, In Excess’s progeny included a classic winner, Musical Chimes, who won the French 1000 Guineas at Longchamp in 2003, the year she was third in the French Oaks. Musical Chimes won the Grade 1 John Mabee Handicap at Del Mar in 2004.
Romance Is Diane won 5 of 16 starts and earned $712,718 in a career highlighted by a win in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet Stakes in 2006.
Two of Dickson’s favorites were Icecoldbeeratreds and Texcess. The latter won the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes and earned $1,235,335 in a 22-race career that included three stakes wins. Texcess was California’s champion 2-year-old male of 2004.
In more recent seasons, In Excess’s status in the state slipped. He ranked in the top five in progeny earnings in the state as recently as 2010, but with his advanced age, he lost mares to stallions such as Benchmark, Tribal Rule and Unusual Heat.
In early May, Dickson noticed that In Excess’s condition was deteriorating.
“He started to look rough in the last two or three weeks,” Dickson said. “We knew something was going on. I kept looking at him. We didn’t want to do a bunch of tests.”
In Excess died May 23.
“I was with him,” Dickson said. “It touched me.”
In Excess was buried alongside Free House, who stood at Vessels, and First Down Dash, the all-time leading Quarter Horse stallion who was campaigned by the Vessels family in the 1980s.
A week after In Excess’s death, his 5-year-old gelding Dixieland Blues won an allowance race at Betfair Hollywood Park. The stallion’s legacy continues.
Leading runners by In Excess
INDIAN CHARLIE, b. c., 1995, out of Soviet Sojourn, by Leo Castelli. 4 wins in 5 starts, $616,120. 1st Santa Anita Derby (G1); 3rd Kentucky Derby (G1).
MUSICAL CHIMES, dk. b. or br. f., 2000, out of Note Musicale, by Sadler’s Wells. 4 wins in 20 starts in France and North America, $965,489. 1st French 1000 Guineas (Fr-G1), John C. Mabee H. (G1), etc.
ROMANCE IS DIANE, dk. b. or br. f., 2004, out of Romantic Fibs, by Prized. 5 wins in 16 starts, $712,718.
1st Hollywood Starlet S. (G1), Bayakoa H. (G2), California Cup Matron H., California Cup Juvenile Fillies S.; etc.
TEXCESS, b. g., 2002, out of Danish Alamode, by Regal Classic. 4 wins in 22 starts, $1,235,335. 1st Delta Jackpot S., California Cup Classic H., California Cup Juvenile S.; 2nd Lone Star Park H. (G3), Tokyo City H. (G3), etc.
VALENTINE DANCER, b. f., 2000, out of Gilded Dancer, by Mr. Prospector. 8 wins in 29 starts, $1,144,126.
1st Harold C. Ramser Sr. H., Filly and Mare Turf S. (twice), Fran’s Valentine S., Cat’s Cradle H.; etc.
NOTIONAL, b. c., 2004, out of Truly Blessed, by French Deputy. 4 wins in 12 starts in North America and UAE, $733,240. 1st San Rafael S. (G2), Risen Star S. (G3), Salvator Mile H.(G3); 2nd Florida Derby (G1); etc.
EXCESSIVEPLEASURE, dk. b. or br. f., 2000, out of Pleasing, by Falstaff. 5 wins in 22 starts in North America and UAE, $1,081,615. 1st Indiana Derby (G3), WinStar Derby, Iowa Derby, California Breeders’ Champion S.; etc.
ICECOLDBEERATREDS, dk. b. or br. c., 2000, out of Guilded Times, by Crafty Prospector. 3 wins in 5 starts, $353,800. 1st Del Mar Futurity (G2), Graduation S.; 2nd Champagne S. (G1).
ROMANCEISHOPE, dk. b. or br. g., 1998, out of Romantic Fibs, by Prized. 5 wins in 12 starts, $539,082. 1st Del Mar Derby (G2), Snow Chief S., Manila S.; 2nd La Jolla H. (G3); 3rd Oak Tree Derby (G2), Alydar S.
ICANTGOFORTHAT, b. f., 1999, out of Texinadress, by Copelan. 7 wins in 35 starts, $472,484. 1st Monrovia H. (G3), Daisycutter H., Survive S.; 2nd Las Cienegas H. (G3), Boo La Boo S.; 3rd Senator Ken Maddy H. (G3), Bustles and Bows S., Irish O’Brien S., Pio Pico S. (twice).
In Excess’s California-bred champions
Above Perfection (older female)
Controlled (2-year-old filly)
Excessivepleasure (3-year-old male)
Ex Marks the Cop (2-year-old male)
Gibson County (2-year-old male)
Icecoldbeeratreds (2-year-old male)
Indian Charlie (3-year-old male)
In Excessive Bull (2-year-old male)
Jetin Excess (2-year-old filly)
Repo (2-year-old filly)
Romance Is Diane (2yo, 3yo filly)
Romanceishope (3-year-old male)
Spring Awakening ( 2-year-old filly)
Texcess (2-year-old male)
Valentine Dancer (3-year-old filly, turf horse)