Keeneland's January horses of all ages sale got off to a solid start on Monday. The number sold, gross revenue, and average price all experienced big increases from last year's first session. The buy-back rate declined significantly. And the second-highest price in the auction's history was recorded when Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Desert Stormer (in foal to Kris S.) sold for $3.6 million. (The record was the $5 million brought by Mackie, in foal to Mr. Prospector, in 2000.)"We were surprised at the consistency of the strength throughout the session," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "The auctioneers said there was interest pretty much in every horse. There was good strength in the middle market at our November sale, and I think it has carried over to January. The economy is also a little bit better, so maybe people are more interested in buying horses."The 242 horses sold grossed $17,911,800 and averaged $74,016. The number sold was up by 20.4%, and the gross and the average were up by 53.6% and 27.6%, respectively. The buy-back rate was 17.1%, down from 31.9% in 2000. The median suffered a 3.8% decrease, falling from $26,000 last year to $25,000 this year."It seems to be a balanced market," said Lexington bloodstock agent Dan Kenny. "It doesn't seemed to be favoring the buyer or the seller. It's a healthy market. You can sell one well and you can buy one well."Said Rick Nichols of Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Farm, which launched its new commercial venture with a January consignment: "It's going great. We brought our horses here to sell, and they sold very well, They brought more money than we expected." The January sale runs through Thursday, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m. (EST) daily.