03/24/2009 11:00PM

All horses need homeland security

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It would be a stretch to suggest that Cigar made the Dubai World Cup the event it is today, now that it has gone from a wild-eyed, one-shot deal in the desert to a festival that rivals the Breeders' Cup in scope and riches. Still, Cigar's victory over Soul of the Matter in that first World Cup, on March 27, 1996, gave Sheikh Mohammed exactly what he needed: ironclad proof that an American star could travel halfway around the globe and reproduce the form that made him a star in the first place.

As the 14th running of the World Cup unfolds on Saturday night, with Well Armed and Arson Squad carrying the ball for the United States, the memories of that first Cup remain vivid. There was Bill Mott each morning on Snowball, his white pony, squinting into the baking desert sun as Cigar galloped by under assistant Tim Jones. There was all-business Jerry Bailey, fresh from his first national title courtesy of Cigar's 10-for-10 season in 1995, calculating the odd configuration of the Nad Al Sheba course.

And there were the Paulsons, Allen and Madeleine, along with Madeleine's Jack Russell terrier Oliver, who was forced to spend the evening of the World Cup in the car park, cooling his heels, thanks to the unenlightened Arab attitude toward dogs mingling with an elite racing crowd. Now, if Oliver had been a Persian cat . . .

Allen Paulson died in 2000, and Madeleine Paulson was remarried to Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens in June of 2005. That same year, she was still in the thick of the Thoroughbred game as part owner of Rock Hard Ten, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap. Since then, however, she has shed nearly all her Thoroughbred holdings, while becoming active in the campaign to ban the slaughter of horses in the U.S.

"The World Cup with Cigar seems like a lifetime ago," Madeleine Pickens said earlier this week. "And I'll still so embarrassed and ashamed that I never knew that racehorses went to slaughter. If I'd known, I would have started my efforts many moons ago."

Since last fall Pickens has concentrated her energies and influence on creating a sanctuary for the American population of more than 30,000 wild horses and burros currently in some form of captivity or management. Pickens was in Washington this week, making the rounds, pushing hard to get the Bureau of Land Management on board with her idea of a 1,500-square mile sanctuary in Nevada as a permanent home for the wild ones.

The details of the concept

can be found at her website (MadeleinePickens.com) as well as links to government officials and legislators key to its execution. But to hear Pickens tell it, winning a race like the World Cup is a walk in the park compared with steering a project through the federal bureaucracy.

"With a racehorse, you get used to mapping out its career and just going forward as best you can," Pickens said. "That's pretty easy compared to Washington, where you're just a small cog in a very big wheel. I'm positive it's going to get done, but it's frustrating because it's so slow.

"I look at it this way. If they were able to bail out banks and have all kinds of TARPs and stimulus packages, they're certainly able to jump to it when they need to. Over the next 10 years, it will cost taxpayers a billion dollars to maintain the program as it stands now. I don't know how, at a time like this, they would have the gall not to go into a private program that has accounted for everything - enough land, enough water to create supplemental feed, grazing rights, neutering. We didn't just come up with this idea overnight."

The idea of a single, permanent sanctuary of sufficient size as a home for the iconic American wild horse is appealing, especially since the current management of mustangs includes a patchwork of Herd Management Areas in 10 Western states and such unreliable or downright distasteful elements as auction, penning, slaughter and euthanasia. When Land Management officials or their private contractors "gather" wild horses, they often use helicopters.

Pickens was asked, though, if her concept for a wild horse sanctuary would include a component for retired Thoroughbreds as well. She was, after all, among the most visible patrons of the sport during her 12 years of marriage to Allen Paulson. Besides two-time Horse of the Year Cigar, they raced champions Arazi, Ajina, Blushing John, and Escena.

"When our deal goes through for the wild mustangs, I'm hoping that they will be the catalyst," Pickens said. "Racing should be able to do the same kind of program. If you can make a nomination fee for the Derby, or the Breeders' Cup, you should be able to have a fee to support a large enough retirement facility to care for Thoroughbreds."

She has a point. American wild horses are essentially wards of the state orphaned, marginalized and subject not only to the whims of a federal budget but also to pressures from the powerful cattle industry to restrict grazing access. You would think a comprehensive program offered by a private citizen that essentially solves the wild horse issue would be welcomed.

The American Thoroughbred, on the other hand, comes into this world on purpose, when a human being introduces a stallion to a mare, lets them go at it, and prays that their baby makes them rich. Cigar has a home for life at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, and he certainly earned it. The rest of them deserve no less.