03/01/2007 1:00AM

Notional may be California's best


LEXINGTON, Ky. - One of a trio of Kentucky Derby prospects owned by J. Paul Reddam and trained by Doug O'Neill, Notional is also arguably the most talented California-bred colt of his crop.

A bay son of top California stallion In Excess, Notional has won the Grade 2 San Rafael and Grade 3 Risen Star this year to boost his profile as a classic candidate.

The colt is likely to make his final classic prep in either the Wood Memorial or Florida Derby. Those are premium prep races that indicate the regard that Reddam and O'Neill have for this colt.

A high achiever from an early age, Notional was a 2-year-old purchase last year who was acquired on the advice of Dennis O'Neill, the trainer's brother.

"David Scanlon consigned Notional at the Barretts sale and stopped me to say that this was a good colt," Dennis O'Neill said. "I looked him over, liked his looks and the way he breezed, and we bought him."

The colt sold for $235,000, which "was a big price to pay for an In Excess," O'Neill admitted.

"Paul bought only six or seven horses last year, and he has three that are prospects for the Kentucky Derby."

Reddam's other two Derby prospects are Liquidity and Great Hunter.

O'Neill said he was attracted to Notional because he is a "very classy horse with intelligence and quality. He's not a real wide horse, but he has a beautiful head, stands near 16 hands, and is not real bulky. He's very athletic looking, and we're going slow with him right now because he's not a heavy horse, and we don't want to over-race before the classics."

Part of the plan in preparing Notional for the classics included a trip to New Orleans for the Risen Star, in part to see how he would ship and cope with a different environment. O'Neill said the colt "never turned a hair."

Their reasoning is that Notional will handle a trip to Kentucky with equal ease. But perhaps he should, since he has been there before.

As a sales yearling, Notional brought $77,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale. That was the second-highest price of 2005 for a yearling by In Excess. Smithland Stable bought Notional and entered the colt in the Barretts March select sale of 2-year-olds in training, where Reddam bought him.

In his preparation for the juvenile sale, Notional breezed well and earned a BreezeFig of 68 for an eighth-mile work in 10.40 seconds. He breezed at the first under-tack show, showing a stride length of 24.99 feet and speeding up to almost 45 miles per hour near the end of his furlong work.

A Feb. 1 foal, Notional is out of the French Deputy mare Truly Blessed. The 10-year-old mare was a winner at 2, and Notional is her second foal. The mare has a 2-year-old by the Vessels stallion Apollo and slipped her foal in 2006.

Farm owner Scoop Vessels purchased the mare specifically to breed to his star stallion In Excess.

"I purchased Truly Blessed a few years back," Vessels said, "and since Notional came along, I've sold her to Ernie Moody, and they are breeding her to Rock Hard Ten."

A robust and attractive mare, Truly Blessed was a debut winner at 2, and her now-famous son followed suit in winning his debut last year, earning a stand-out 105 Beyer figure.

The mare was certainly mated to advantage, since In Excess is surely one of the best stallions in California. A dark brown son of Siberian Express, In Excess stands for a private stud fee at Vessels Stallion Station near Bonsall, Calif.

"California is becoming a strong state for stallions with horses like Bertrando, Swiss Yodeler, Salt Lake, and Benchmark," as well as In Excess, Vessels said. "The whole California marketplace is growing, and with the incentive rewards they offer here, it works well to have a big horse now."

In Excess is surely that, both in physique and in performance as a sire. Standing a full 16-2 hands, In Excess is a lengthy and powerfully constructed specimen.

He has passed on a considerable amount of his best qualities to his offspring, which tend to be sizable and fast, although they also tend to profit from time to grow into their frames.

In Excess "is passing on a tremendous will to run," Vessels said. "They show so much raw talent that trainers can't wait to put them on the track, and it's really helping him out. Once a trainer has one, they really like them. So they tell their clients they need to breed to him or need to buy one by him."

To date, the stallion has sired nearly 50 stakes winners and runners with total earnings of more than $26 million.