LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Bloodstock agent Mark Reid of New Jersey is enjoying the September Yearling Sale at Keeneland much more than in previous years, and he's quick to identify the reason.

``The water is pretty deep,'' Reid said. ``I've been coming for a lot of years here, and these first two days, these sets of horses were as nice physically as I've ever seen here.''

When Keeneland canceled its annual July Selected Yearling Sale, an industry staple since 1944, the assumption was that its 60th annual September sale would increase in quality. That's been the case, according to most buyers and consigners surveyed Tuesday, the second day of the industry's largest yearling sale. But opinions differ vastly as to how much better.

``I think it's the same as always,'' said Reiley McDonald of Eaton Sales of Lexington, which consigned a chestnut colt that sold for $1.1 million Tuesday. ``I hear some people say it's a lousy year, and some people say it's a great year, so somewhere in the middle is reality.''

Because of the cancellation of the July sale, ``there probably are an additional 60 to 70 horses in this sale of better quality, at the most,'' McDonald said.

On Tuesday, Keeneland sold 173 horses for $70.7 million, an average of $408,642. On the second day of the sale last year, Keeneland sold 182 horses for $50.1 million. A Gone West filly, bought by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, fetched $3.8 million, Tuesday's top sale.

In two days, 339 horses were sold for $131.2 million, $31 million more than in the same period last year.

Keeneland canceled its July sale, historically regarded as the thoroughbred industry's most prestigious auction, in the wake of the 2001 outbreak of mare reproductive loss syndrome in Kentucky.

During the outbreak, pregnant mares began developing weak foals, which needed days of medical treatment to survive, if they lived at all. During the following weeks, hundreds of foals died and thousands of mares lost early term pregnancies as a result of the illness.

By the time the deaths subsided, about 3.8 percent of the state's foal crop and 15 percent of the foals that would have been born in Kentucky had been lost.

Horses that normally would have been sold at Keeneland this July instead are being dispersed in other sales, including those held by rival auction house Fasig-Tipton in July in Lexington and in August in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Longtime thoroughbred owner Bob Lewis of Newport Beach, Calif., said the absence of Keeneland's July sale isn't all negative.

``One of the things that is an advantage is that the horses are more mature at this point in their careers, in September, than they are in July,'' Lewis said.

Keeneland catalogued 4,294 horses for the September sale, which will last until Sept. 20. Last year, 4,367 horses were catalogued for the 12-day September auction.

Reid, acting as an agent for an anonymous buyer, purchased an A.P. Indy bay colt out of Adoradancer for $1.85 million on Tuesday. He said he didn't miss Keeneland's July sale and said he wouldn't mind if it wasn't held next year, either.

``I don't want to tell them their business,'' he said, ``but I'd prefer doing it all at once, looking at the entire crop, and not worrying in July whether I can get better in September. I like the theory of the way this works. They were forced to do it this year, but the way it's turning out, I think it's worked great. I would be surprised if they wheeled right back with a July. This has really worked well.

``You have to spend a little extra money, but the horses are here.''

McDonald would like to see the July sale resume in future years.

``I think there's a place for an early, well-developed, mature horse,'' he said. ``We couldn't do it this year, because we didn't have the product. Most of the well-developed, mature horses we lost to MRLS, all the early foals.''

On Monday, the sale numbers were positive. While fewer horses were sold than last year, three key numbers were up over 2002 _ total receipts ($60.555 million), average ($364,789) and median ($225,000).