LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ A partnership of California horseman B. Wayne Hughes and Saudi Arabian Prince Ahmed Salman paid $2.5 million for a Gone West colt Monday in the opening session of Keeneland's Selected Yearling Sale.

``I am in this horse business for the love of thoroughbreds, and I love the people, too,'' Salman said of his decision to join forces with Hughes in bidding for the colt, one of six horses to sell for $1 million or more Monday.

Forty yearlings sold for more than $23.83 million, an average of $595,875 per horse.

That was up from last year's first session of the July sale, when 50 yearlings went for $24.76 million, an average of $495,200.

However, bidding was less spirited at the bottom of the elite yearling market, as evidenced by the 22 colts and fillies who went unsold after bidding failed to reach the reserve price set by their owners.

Keeneland sales director Rogers Beasley said he was not bothered by the high number of horses being taken back by their owners.

``It just means the owners believe more in the horse than the buyers,'' he said. ``The (total) dollar amount, to me, is a lot more important.''

Some buyers saw it differently.

``I just don't think the catalog is good,'' said Satish Sanan, whose Padua Stables purchased five horses Monday, none for more than $1 million.

Last year, Sanan's heavy spending was a major force driving the market to heights not seen since the mid-to-late 1980s. This year, he said, only 30 to 40 of the horses in the sale are of top quality, and even fewer are worthy of the highest prices.

``Ten to 15 are the top-class horses, and every serious buyer is on it,'' he said.

One of those was the Gone West colt, who drew the Salman-Hughes partnership into a bidding war with Buzz Chace.

``He reminds me of Oath,'' Salman said, comparing the colt to the English Derby winner he owns. ``He looks like he can go a mile and a quarter. He looks like a Kentucky Derby winner.''

Later, bidding on his own, Salman paid $800,000 for a filly by 1994 Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat and $1.5 million for a filly by Irish champion Woodman.

A bay colt by the Irish turf champion Theatrical out of the mare Claxton's Stew went for $2 million to Coolmore's John Magnier and Michael Tabor.

``He's a half-brother to a good filly,'' Magnier said, referring to Claxton's Stew daughter Escena, winner of the Kentucky Oaks and the Breeder's Cup Distaff.

A Storm Cat filly out of Phone Chatter sold for $1.3 million to Reynolds Bell, agent for Jayeff B Stables.

``Much more than that, and I would have had to think about it,'' Bell said afterward. ``I just thought she was a good athlete. I'm tickled to get her.''

One surprise was the unexpectedly low $1 million paid for Serena's Tune, a filly by the late great sire Mr. Prospector out of champion filly Serena's Song, by Jim Sapara, owner of Winsong Farms in Edmonton.

Sapara admitted he would have paid more for the bay yearling, who was consigned by Bob and Beverly Lewis.

``Look at the pedigree,'' said Sapara's bloodstock agent, James Delahooke. ``You're very close to the source, with a sire like Mr. Prospector.''

A colt from the first crop by Storm Cat son Hennessy went for a surprising $1.2 million to trainer Bob Hess Jr., who bought him for David Shimmon.

Buyers were enthusiastic about the first crop from the unproven sire, who raced well as a 2-year-old in 1995, then was injured. The five Hennessy yearlings in the session sold for $3.55 million, an average of more than $700,000.

The sale concludes with sessions Tuesday afternoon and evening.