The colt was led into the Marymount College dining room after the white chocolate mousse was served, momentarily incongruous among linen-draped tables and tuxedoed guests.
But what happened Saturday night was no mere horsing around. Maalim, a rare Egyptian-Arabian yearling, was auctioned to a Washington businessman for $35,000, money that will help endow the School of Business Administration at the North Arlington college.
"I did not intend to buy a horse when I came tonight," said Leo Tonkin, president of a Washington architectural and interior design firm. "I'm not sure whether I should see a shrink or a trainer."
He said it was Marymount that made him do it. "Sister Majella [Marymount President Sister M. Majella Berg] has done such an incredible degree of work and has such enthusiasm that I admire her very deeply. This auction is just one heck of a wonderful event, and I believe that horse I bought tonight is just that -- one heck of a wonderful event."
Maalim was a gift to Marymount from alumna Jan Holder Flint, who said she wearied of the usual "please give" letters and decided to donate something both valuable and unusual.
As centerpiece of the college's annual fund-raising auction, Maalim drew curious looks from guests accustomed to the more conventional prizes of afghans, jewelry and dinners for two at Washington restaurants.
Maalim posed obediently in a makeshift paddock on the college lawn, his coat alternately gray and rose-colored in the fading light.
"He's very quiet and intelligent. Bright," said Erica Montgomery, owner of Deep Meadow Farm in Waynesboro and of A.K. El Maalouf, Maalim's sire. "He's not dull-quiet. He's easy-to-handle quiet."
"I wonder what his SAT scores are," said Alice Mandanis, vice president for academic affairs.
In the Student Center, about 500 people milled around, writing bids for dishes and earrings, a "lovable calico duck" and a lettuce crisper, a case of white zinfandel and an autographed Bullets basketball.
A man reached to bid on a Ringling Brothers' circus poster depicting a snarling tiger. "You are not bidding on that for your son," his wife said. "You'll scare him to death."
Outside, the Bonded Blend, an Arlington barbershop quartet outfitted in tuxedos with petal-pink bow ties, launched into a chorus of "Where or When."
"Oh, they're singing to the horse, isn't that nice?" a man said.
After dinner, things settled down to serious business. A couple bid $1,200 for lunch at the White House with Attorney General Edwin Meese III and his wife, Ursula, who attended the auction. Party entertainment by the Bonded Blend went for $150.
Then the colt arrived. Montgomery's husband, Stuart, explained that Maalim's rose-gray coat and ginger-colored tail will turn white over the years -- in about a decade, he'll be a horse of a different color.
"This is a truly incredible animal -- one that can show, win, race, do anything you want to make you money," Montgomery said.
The bidding began at $5,000. For a long moment, no one spoke.
"His father earned half a million dollars last year," coaxed Montgomery.
"Six," a voice finally said. And the race was on.
Later, Montgomery threw in an incentive -- one year's free training, boarding, conditioning and showing.
"Looking for $25,000 . . . . How're we doin', sister?" Montgomery asked Berg. She just smiled.
Leo Tonkin bid $35,000, and it stuck -- once, twice, for good. Berg beamed.
Berg said she was a little anxious at the bidding's slow start. "I wanted it to go for at least $25,000," she said. "So when he started at $5,000 . . . . I can't say I was nervous. I was just praying."