04/23/2003 11:00PM

An overachiever who keeps surprising

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People have finally stopped being surprised by In Excess. The Irish-bred stallion, once expected to be a major runner on English turf, became a star in America instead. Despite an obscure pedigree, he has turned out to be one of the nation's most versatile and successful stallions.

In Excess has arrived, and the proof is everywhere these days. His name is at the top of California's general sire list this year, as it was last year, and he also ranks No. 10 by progeny earnings on the North American general sire list. On Saturday, some of his best California-based runners will head to post for Hollywood Park's Gold Rush Day, and that could turn out to be the best advertisement of all.

In Excess's group of racehorses this season includes such standouts as WinStar Derby winner Excessivepleasure, unbeaten filly Just Too Too, and Survive Stakes winner Icantgoforthat, among many others. His lifetime sire record contains even more jewels: 1998 Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Indian Charlie, Grade 2 winner Romanceishope, and Grade 3 winner In Excessive Bull, among other good horses.

In Excess stands at Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, Calif., for a private fee in the neighborhood of $20,000, making him one of the state's more expensive stallions.

In Excess's journey to the top of the North American breeding business began back in England in 1990. He was a promising 3-year-old who had won two of his first three starts, over six and seven furlongs. When trainer Bruce Jackson and his client, real-estate developer Jack Munari, went on a scouting mission to Britain, they saw In Excess and liked him, but the dark bay colt, bred by Ahmed Foustok, wasn't for sale.

Things changed soon thereafter, Jackson recalled, when In Excess finished 13th in a seven-furlong race at Ascot. Suddenly, he was on the market, and Munari bought the colt privately through agent Richard Duggan.

"They said he didn't travel too well, and, you know, in England you have to ship them to all the races," Jackson said. "But nobody would sell a horse they thought would turn into the kind of horse he turned into. They always thought he had ability. He'd been running in sprint races over there, but then he kind of ran a bad one. That and the fact he didn't travel well - they decided to sell him."

Jackson ran In Excess for the first time just a week after the colt arrived in America, and he narrowly lost the one-mile Oceanside Stakes on the grass. But when Jackson sent him back out for the Del Mar Derby 25 days later, In Excess blew a fuse.

"He wigged out in the paddock," Jackson recalled. "I had to back off him a little. But we knew there would be days like that.

"He wasn't stupid or anything, he was just hot. But he finally learned to relax, and he became a little easier to train."

Jackson had reason to be optimistic about In Excess.

"I liked him from the first time I worked him," he said. "Eddie Delahoussaye rode him that day, and I told him to go a mile in about [1:39 or 1:40]. He went in 1:34 4/5, and we didn't ask him to do that much. He did things pretty easy, and he fooled people that way. He had a big, long stride."

Jackson and Munari enjoyed two heady seasons with In Excess, who went on to earn more than $1.7 million from eight North American victories, all stakes. He was a success on the turf at 3, winning the Grade 3 Volante and San Gabriel handicaps and the ungraded Temperence Hill. But his finest hours were in 1991 when, switched to the dirt at 4, he won four Grade 1 races - the Metropolitan, Suburban, Woodward, and Whitney - as well as the Grade 2 San Fernando in stakes-record time of 1:46.60 for 1 1/8 miles.

In Excess may have surprised his former owners in England by turning out so well in the States, and he surprised Munari and Jackson, too, by succeeding so dramatically on the dirt. The hot temperament that made his English owners lose faith in In Excess gradually faded in the States, a process that Jackson thinks was largely due to maturity. Looking back on it, Jackson wonders if the hot-natured stallion now might be passing along some useful aggression to his 2-year-olds.

"I have some of his babies," said Jackson, who says he has no ownership involvement in his former stable star. "Most of them are pretty aggressive. They have to be to win those 2-year-old races they have over a quarter-mile. And they do. His 2-year-olds are very precocious."

They were precocious enough to make In Excess California's leading sire of juveniles in 1996, 2000, and 2002, when he also led the state's general sire list. Success with 2-year-olds was one more surprise from In Excess, according to Vessels Stallion Farm breeding manager Kevin Dickson.

"He was ridiculed a few years ago for not having 2-year-olds, but people weren't looking at the fine print," Dickson said. "They were out there. His foals can be a little raw-boned early on, but they tend to blossom by the time they're 2."

In Excess's potency as a sire of runners is all the more interesting given the unusual nature of his pedigree.

"It's been termed 'obscure,' " Dickson said.

In Excess is by Siberian Express, a French 2000 Guineas winner whose other top progeny were stakes winners in Italy and India, pretty far afield from the California market's scrutiny. Siberian Express did go on to sire another California stallion of note, Siberian Summer. In Excess's dam, Kantado, a winner by the little-known stallion Saulingo, produced mainly workaday winners in England and Belgium.

But In Excess has proven he has the goods to make a sire. When people express their amazement that In Excess's get have proven to be successful and versatile runners in spite of their sire's offbeat genes, Dickson nearly throws up his hands in dismay.

"Look at his race record!" he said. "Look at how and where he raced and how he did. He was a versatile horse himself, so why wouldn't his foals be versatile?"

In Excess has stood at Vessels Stallion Farm since 1994. John T.L. Jones's Walmac International in Kentucky also bid for the stallion, but Vessels Farm owner Scoop Vessels was able to keep In Excess in the Golden State. To do that, Vessels decided to syndicate him.

"They made a pretty hard run at him to bring him back East a few years back," Dickson said. "That was what initiated the move to syndicate him here. We needed to sell a minimum of 21 shares to keep the horse here, and a lot of people said it couldn't be done. But there were enough California breeders who wanted to keep the horse here, and they supported him. So the horse stayed here. Seeing what the horse has done, it's clear that's what needed to happen.

"He's the man. He loves his job, and he's good at it."

In Excess will have plenty of opportunity this year. Dickson said the stallion's book will be about 100 mares, down from last year's 120 but enough to keep him busy siring more runners.