As Royal Delta stretched her dark bay legs in the back walking ring while awaiting her turn inside the Keeneland sales pavilion Tuesday, seats in the main arena filled.
"There is royalty," head auctioneer Ryan Mahan proclaimed as the newly crowned Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic winner showed herself to the crowd.
During her five minutes in the ring, the filly proved as awe-inspiring as she has been on the racetrack, as Florida-based owner Ben Leon outbid Adena Springs owner Frank Stronach to buy Royal Delta for $8.5 million during the second session of the Keeneland November breeding stock sale.
It was the highlight of another day of booming across-the-board gains.
Already a Grade I winner before her Breeders' Cup victory Friday and with a blue-blood pedigree to match, Royal Delta was expected to be among the sale's show stoppers when she was consigned by Chanteclair Farm as part of a complete dispersal of stock from Prince Saud bin Khaled, who died in February.
When the daughter of Empire Maker won the Ladies' Classic to all but lock up the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old fillies, the question became, how high would her price go?
An opening bid of $2.5 million quickly foreshadowed what was to come.
Royal Delta became the third-highest-priced horse ever to sell at the November auction, behind Playful Act ($10.7 million in 2007) and Ashado ($9 million in 2005).
"Something like this is really priceless," said Leon, who added he bought Royal Delta as a gift for his wife, Silvia, who was celebrating her birthday Tuesday. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she is the whole package. My passion is breeding, and I can't think of a better mare to breed in the future than her, but I also can't think of a better filly to enjoy now on the track than her."
Considering she has just eight career starts and might be reaching her peak now, Leon said he planned to keep Royal Delta in training for her 4-year-old season. What has not been decided is whether she will stay with trainer Bill Mott. Leon sends most of his horses to Todd Pletcher.
"That would be wonderful," Mott said of the possibility of getting back his star filly. "From what I've seen, I think she's just beginning to figure the game out. There might be something there we haven't seen yet."
Royal Delta is out of multiple-graded-stakes-winning mare Delta Princess, a full sister to Grade I winner Indy Five Hundred.
The regard for that family was evident as Delta Princess sold to Stronach for $2.6 million earlier in the day, and Leon then bought a weanling half-sister to Royal Delta for $1.6 million.
Barely two minutes after she entered the ring, Royal Delta had the board sailing past $6 million as initial bidding jumped in seven-figure increments. With Mahan's voice ringing out above the hushed crowd, the exercise became a battle between Stronach and Leon, going up $200,000 and $300,000 at a time before Stronach threw in the towel after his bid of $8.2 million.
"I was going to go out of my way to do the best to try and take her home," said Leon, who spoke with Mott immediately afterward and asked the Hall of Famer to contact him. "This filly automatically put our program light years ahead of where we would have been."
The strong reception for the horses of Prince Khaled was a tribute to his operation. The 20 that sold accounted for $16,813,000 of the day's gross receipts of $51,405,000.
Still, seeing such top stock fall into other, though capable, hands was hard for the Chanteclair crew.
"It's incredible prices; it's wonderful," Ron Wallace, president and general manager of Chanteclair, said earlier in the day. "I need to sell these horses and not worry" about the emotions.
After 14 horses reached $1 million during the opening session Monday, eight more hit that level Tuesday as the boutique portion of the 11-day November sale concluded.
The two-day gross of $114,681,500 is up 63.03 percent from 2010, with the average of $402,391 up 86.48 percent and the median of $220,000 rising 62.96 percent.
"It was another great day across the board," said Walt Robertson, Keeneland's vice president of sales. "It again was led by a dispersal. Not as large (as Monday's dispersal of the estate of Edward P. Evans), but certainly a beautiful consignment, and they topped it with a mare that did everything right."