01/09/2004 1:00AM

January sale loses You, but still offers some coveted mares

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When the five-day Keeneland January horses of all ages sale opens Monday, it will be without its headliner, Grade 1 stakes winner You. Entered as a broodmare prospect, she was pulled from the sale by owner Edmund Gann, who according to sales officials intends to breed her this year.

Even with some of its star power gone, the sale is fueled by optimism following the November breeding stock sale at Keeneland, which showed enormous gains and world-record prices of $7.1 million for a broodmare and $2.4 million for a weanling.

"The success of November always helps January," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "Everyone is in much more of a positive, buoyant mood."

Although the January sale lacks the stars sold in November, there are still several premier mares that will attract considerable attention.

Beckys Shirt (Hip No. 393), the dam of 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Cajun Beat, and European Group 1 winner Luna Wells (Hip No. 573), who is in foal to Storm Cat, are scheduled to be sold Tuesday, the second day of the sale. Stylish (Hip No. 1088), a graded-stakes-winning Thunder Gulch mare with earnings in excess of $588,000, is to be sold as a broodmare prospect Wednesday.

Monday's opening session has more of a South American influence. Brazilian champion Virginie (Hip No. 345), who is in foal to Giant's Causeway, is among the horses highlighting the first session.

Ultimately, the success of the January sale will likely be determined by the strength of the middle market. Mid-range broodmares and weanlings sold well at Keeneland in November, and the makeup of the January sale includes fewer elite horses and a large number of mid-level horses.

"I would consider this sale similar to last year, which I described as a typical January sale," said Russell. "The middle of the market since 2002 has done well with yearlings and broodmares, and, hopefully, that's a positive going into this sale."

Yearlings make up a little less than a third of the catalog, and as with past January sales, there is a higher percentage of racing and broodmare prospects offered for sale than in November.

Keeneland cataloged 1,917 horses for the January sale, consisting of 827 broodmares, 191 broodmare prospects, 634 yearlings, 152 racing or broodmare prospects, 6 racing or stallion prospects, 21 stallion prospects, 81 racing prospects, 3 stallions, and 2 stallion shares. Last year, Keeneland cataloged 1,907 horses for a similar five-day auction.

During the 2003 January auction, 1,185 horses were sold for $31,186,000, down 10 percent from 2002. The average price slipped 29 percent to $26,317, and the median fell 22 percent to $10,000. The buy-back rate was 26 percent, well up from the 18 percent rate of 2002.

Following a banner yearling sale in September and a recovering economy, the results of the November sale turned bullish for sellers. The 11-day November auction sold 2,614 horses for $236,070,900, up 26 percent from 2002's 10-day sale, when 2,377 lots sold. The 2003 average price of $90,310 outpaced 2002's November average by 15 percent, and the $32,000 median was up 14 percent. The buy-back rate rose slightly from 22 percent from 20 percent.

The Keeneland January auction will run Monday through Friday, with continuous sessions starting daily at 10 a.m.