01/15/2007 1:00AM

Gross up at Keeneland but average, median down

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland January all-ages auction ended Monday with mixed results, posting a record gross but decreases in average and median prices.

The eight-day auction began with a record catalog of 2,933 horses, and it ended with a record gross of $72,329,100, less than 1 percent higher than the previous record gross set last year. But the average price of $39,134 was down 12 percent from last season, and the median price fell 6 percent to $15,000.

The auction's highest price of $1.8 million was for Grade 1 winner Point Ashley, a finalist for the 2006 Eclipse Award for juvenile filly. Ahmed Zayat sold her through the Hill 'n' Dale Farm sales agency, and Hill 'n' Dale owner John Sikura purchased her for the farm's own broodmare band. Zayat also sold the auction's only other seven-figure horse, the Grade 1-winning filly Downthedustyroad. Consigned by Eaton Sales, agent, she sold for $1.5 million to an undisclosed client of Fleetwood Bloodstock.

The highest-priced yearling was a $500,000 Distorted Humor-Andrea Gail colt that Jess Jackson bought from Legacy Bloodstock, agent. The colt is a half-brother to graded winner Areyoutalkintome.

"It was a very successful sale," said Keeneland's director of sales, Geoffrey Russell. "The mixed sale is hard to compare from year to year, because the catalog changes dramatically. This year's catalog was not as strong as last year's, and it still outgrossed last year's."

But Russell and the auction's consignors found elements of the market they would like to see improved. One feature of the January market was a high number of outs. On the first day alone, sellers scratched 84 horses, to the dismay of many buyers.

Russell said that consignors had given him a wide range of reasons for scratching their horses, from equine illness to the desire to hang on to mares they thought they couldn't replace in a market that lately has seen record high prices for broodmares and broodmare prospects.

Some sellers indicated they would like to see some changes in format for the January sale, which in recent years has expanded from four or five days to seven or eight. Among the suggestions bandied about around the sale barns were adding a select portion to the auction's first day or two, and selling mares, yearlings, and racing and broodmare prospects in separate categories.