01/09/2006 1:00AM

Withdrawal of Island Fashion makes One for Rose early star

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Keeneland January all-ages auction, which cataloged a sale-record 2,508 horses this year, began in workmanlike fashion on Monday.

After a heated 2005 auction season that saw Ashado sell for a world-record $9 million, 2006 opened on a cooler note. But prices for mares in particular remained strong as buyers outbid at earlier sales returned to shop the January market.

As of 6 p.m. Eastern, the January sale's opening session leader was the $875,000 Canadian champion mare One for Rose, sold as a broodmare prospect to Aki Kato, agent for Isami Nakamura. Three Chimneys, agent, sold the 7-year-old Tejano Run mare, who is a daughter of Saucyladygaylord. One for Rose is a nine-time stakes winner and was Canada's champion older mare in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Quality mares continued to bring premium prices at Keeneland January, as they had at the November breeding stock sales at both Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton. But, unlike those auctions, Keeneland January's opening session lacked the massive star power to draw million-dollar bids.

The session lost its sizzle with the withdrawal of Island Fashion, who had been set to sell as Hip No. 236. Island Fashion, a multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire, would have easily been the biggest fish on opening day, but owner Jeff Nielsen opted to scratch her from the Crestwood Farm consignment. The mare remains in training at Santa Anita, according to farm officials. She last ran on Dec. 11, when she finished third behind Star Parade and Dream of Summer in the Grade 2 Bayakoa at Hollywood Park.

Nielsen, who campaigns his horses in the name of Everest Stables, had entered Island Fashion in three previous Keeneland auctions, only to take her out again. In 2003, after her Alabama Stakes victory, Island Fashion was cataloged to the November auction; after being scratched, she went on to win the La Brea. Last year, with another Grade 1 win and four placings to her credit, she was put into the November auction again but once more remained in training. Her record currently stands at 27-6-5-2 with $1,965,970 in earnings. Island Fashion had been cataloged to the January auction as a racing or broodmare prospect.

"We're disappointed, obviously, that she didn't sell," said Pope McLean Sr., whose Crestwood Farm foaled and raised Island Fashion; boards her dam, Danzigs Fashion; and also stands her sire, Petionville. "There's no doubt she would have been the sale-topper. Her owner has chosen to try to race her a little more and then breed her, and, hopefully, we'll have her back here in the November sale.

"We foaled her, we stand her sire, and we have her dam, the whole ball of wax," McLean added of Island Fashion. "It's rewarding to be able to sell one we have been with the whole way."

Island Fashion's defection from the catalog left a vacuum at the top of the Monday market. But two mares set to sell on Tuesday were expected to atone somewhat for the loss. Two-time graded-stakes winner Solvig, now carrying a foal by popular Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, was to sell as Hip No. 400 in the Gainesway consignment. Elbaaha, the 12-year-old dam of English Group 1 winner Electrocutionist and currently in foal to successful young sire Montjeu, was catalogued as Hip No. 571 from the Indian Creek agency.

Even without a marquee horse, Monday's market appeared to be doing well. By 6 p.m., 12 lots had sold for $300,000 or above. And there was a healthy demand for horses selling in the $45,000 to $200,000 range.

"The market has held up very well," said Florida-based breeder Mike O'Farrell Jr., owner of the stallion station Ocala Stud. "The November sale was spectacular, and you wouldn't say this is spectacular, but it's every bit as strong as anyone could expect."

A strong demand for mares, whose produce will not come to market for at least a year, traditionally indicates a long-term confidence in the Thoroughbred breeding game. That confidence has been well rewarded in recent years by a booming yearling market. And O'Farrell sees other reasons for breeder confidence, too, starting with slot machines.

"If New York, Florida, and a number of other states get slots in place next year, purses should go up, and there's earning potential there," O'Farrell said.

That could bode well for yearling sellers, who will be pitching their wares to buyers eager to cash in on fatter purses.

"It's still a rich man's game," O'Farrell added, "but it's a good gamble. You still have to come up with a good horse, but if you do, there's opportunity there."