In an auction where seven-figure horses aren't that unusual, one would not expect a $340,000 yearling to register as more than a blip on the Keeneland September sale radar.
When a bay colt known officially as hip No. 513 drew that final bid, however, his significance was hardly defined by his price tag.
On August 18, David Mullins — one of the most respected consignors in the business — died in Lexington at age 51 from pancreatic cancer.
A handsome Tiznow colt out of the Strawberry Road mare Pola was the lone yearling offered in the sale from Mullins' Doninga Bloodstock consignment, and it sold Wednesday for $340,000 to new buyer Kaleem Shah.
Long known for his astute horsemanship, Mullins made a career out of spotting future boutique mares and yearlings.
Included among the 51 stakes-producers he sold during his career were former Broodmare of the Year Baby Zip, the dam of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and Drina, dam of Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Spain.
"He was a pioneer in going out and claiming fillies from the racetrack and selling them through the ring later," said owner and breeder John O'Meara an associate of Mullins for 15 years. "He started off breeding the mares and then he figured out people wanted to breed their own so he started selling them straight off the track.
"He was hard to work for, actually, because he was very particular about how horses showed up. But he did a wonderful job presenting horses."
The Tiznow colt, a half brother to stakes winner Going Wild, attracted the attention of such high-profile buyers as Eclipse Award winning trainer Todd Pletcher before being claimed by Shah.
"It was a great tribute to (Mullins) today to make that kind of money," said O'Meara, who added that Doninga would be represented by 12 mares in the Keeneland November sale. "I think he was up there helping us somewhere along the way."
Although Wednesday's sale boasted some robust prices, overall numbers continue to be off last year's pace. The gross ($164,164,000) and average ($288,007) are down 17.2 percent and 13.3 percent, respectively, from 2007. After two days of holding steady, the median fell to $220,000, down from $230,000 this time last year.
A total of 224 horses have failed to sell the first three days, 28.2 percent of those offered.
"I thought today was very very good," said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland's director of sales. "We started off with a $600,000 horse first in the ring and continued on solid all the way through the day."
Zayat Stables bought the highest priced horse of the third session, bidding $875,000 for a chestnut colt by Mr. Greeley out of the Old Trieste mare Chinoe Road.
"He wasn't a very big horse, but he has a lot of room for improvement and he looks exactly like his daddy," said Sobhy Sonbol, vice president of Zayat Stables.