David Mullins, who operated Doninga Bloodstock agency, died Aug. 18 at Saint Joseph Hospital’s hospice center in Lexington after a lengthy illness. He was 51.
David’ s name is from the Hebrew; it means “beloved,” and as all of us who knew David have always known, he was, indeed, beloved. He was beloved by his father, Luke, and by his mother, Rita. Luke is from the Greek, meaning “bringer of light.” David brought light into the life of everyone he met.
David was immensely proud of his Irish heritage, and the name Mullins carries a 1,400-year heritage, from his home area in Ireland, the St. Mullins village and historic monastic site being 10 Irish miles from his grandfather’s Doninga Farm.
The family motto reads “Yield Not to Adversity.” Anybody who knew David over the last few months knows that he never yielded to adversity in any form.
David was born in 1957 in Kildare. He was the second of four children, and the family sport was racing; every weekend a picnic would be packed, the car would be loaded, and they would go racing. If there were any grumpy individuals in the car going to or from these race meetings, the grumps never included David.
In 1969, David’s father became general manager of Galway Racecourse, and the races were at David’s front door. David adapted to his environment; by the time he graduated from high school he had spent time at Ballykisteen Stud in Limerick. Then, he served as an intern at Derisley Wood Stud Farm in Newmarket, with the help of Michael Osborne, Rita’s cousin.
As a confident, ambitious, and farsighted young man, David next went to Kentucky. His arrival in 1976 made him the longest standing member of the Irish equine community in the Bluegrass. During his first years here, he worked with an A-list of Thoroughbred breeding establishments, including Spendthrift Farm, with Allen Jerkens in New York, Domino Stud, Airdrie Stud, and for a period in Virginia, where he managed a farm.
In 1985, David returned from Virginia to Lexington, where he managed Silvercrest Farm, then leased part of the Spendthrift Training Center, and also a division of Payson Stud. In 1986, he bought Doninga Farm, naming it for his grandfather’s farm in Ireland. And in selecting the name Doninga for his farm and bloodstock agency, he honored his family roots and Irish heritage.
By 1987, David was well on his way in the horse business, and fortune smiled in other areas as well, with the arrival of his beloved children, his daughter, Dara, and his son Chase. Dara and Chase grew up in their father’s arms, at horse sales and at Keeneland, and his dedication to his children was evident in everything he did.
His success in the horse business is set forth in the racing, sales, and bloodstock records. Over the years Doninga was very successful, selling 51 stakes producers and 90 stakes horses, including five grade I winners, four grade II winners, and 11 grade III winners. And at the 2001 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, Doninga was the leading consigner by average, with the consignment including Saoirse, who sold for $2.2 million.
David also gave back to his community. He was an early and active member of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club, a member of the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association, a member of the High Hope Steeplechase Association, and also president of Central Kentucky Riding for Hope. When Central Kentucky Riding for Hope was in its infancy, David organized a fund-raiser that provided the seed money and was a critical early initiative for the organization.
Throughout his journey, David lived the philosophy that if life gives you a lemon, make lemonade. Presented with any situation, David invariably took a positive viewpoint and he was skilled at verbalizing and presenting his positive interpretations. And equally importantly, he could motivate people to work on a variety of projects and have fun at the same time. David’s unfailingly positive outlook on life served him well at all times, withstood all challenges, and has been an example to all of us as to how life should be lived.
David’s last few months were challenging, but he was surrounded by his many friends and family. His enormous capacity to make people look at the bright side of any situation, and build for the best, is a lesson from David that all of us should keep in our hearts.
Thomas Tobin is a UK professor who grew up just south of St.Mullins in Ireland, and has been a longtime colleague of David’s in the Irish equine community.