01/16/2006 1:00AM

Broodmare prospects lead Keeneland to record

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland Association began the new year with another record-breaking auction, suggesting that the 2006 sale season could be as bullish as 2005.

Coming just two months after the Keeneland November breeding stock sale set records for top, average, and median prices, the January all-ages sale ended Sunday with a new mark for gross sales. The seven-day January auction sold 1,624 horses for a total of $72,174,900, as well as three stallion shares for $4,200 and a breeding right to Medaglia d'Oro for $150,000. That brought the grand total to $72,329,100, easily surpassing last year's $53,418,000 gross and the $66,694,900 record set at the 1988 Keeneland January sale. The 1988 January sale featured a dispersal of Nelson Bunker Hunt's bloodstock.

The 2006 sale had few major stars in a catalog generally described as solid but not spectacular. Heading into the sale, the top lot was expected to be Island Fashion, a multiple Grade 1 winner and millionaire. But owner Jeff Nielsen scratched the mare, opting to keep her in training instead of offering her as a broodmare prospect.

Broodmare prospects turned out to be the market's hottest commodities. The most expensive, and the sole offering to bring seven figures, was the $1 million Girl Warrior, a 5-year-old Elusive Quality mare who is a Grade 2 winner. Jerre Paxton's Northwest Farms bought the mare from the Paramount Sales agency.

That led selling that, while not as gripping as November's world-record $9 million sale of Ashado to Darley Stud, was still highly profitable for Keeneland. The January sale's seven days produced a cumulative average price of $44,443, up 13 percent from last season, and a $16,000 median price, an improvement of 23 percent from last year.

Last year's hot market for yearlings, and especially select-quality yearlings, may have contributed to the January boom as breeders returned from profitable yearling sales to restock their mare bands. But Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell, also repeatedly credited a local initiative to bring more foreign buyers to Kentucky auctions.

Foreign buyers weren't the only major market force. Domestic spending also was strong. Richard and Audrey Haisfield's Stonewall Farm in Kentucky led all buyers by gross, spending $2,689,000 for nine lots, as well as numerous others in partnership. They are stocking a broodmare band to support their new stallion division. The auction's leading seller by gross was Taylor Made, with 134 lots bringing $10,372,100.