Saturday’s 24th edition of the Dubai World Cup, the richest day in horseracing, was indeed rich in many respects.

The headliner was lightly regarded Laurel River’s record 8 ½-length front-running victory in the signature race over the likes of last year’s winner, Japan’s Ushba Tesoro, this year’s Saudi Cup Champion, American Senor Buscador, and Kazakh fan-favorite Kabirkhan among others.

In the best race on the card, the fully loaded Sheema Classic, Rebel’s Romance managed to force regression onto Auguste Rodin, Emily Upjohn, Liberty Island and others, proving the 6-year-old Breeders’ Cup-winning guy still has it.

A new star was born in the UAE Derby. Undefeated 5-0-0 Forever Young is giving Japan new hope for that elusive victory in the May 4 Kentucky Derby, a race his connections haltingly confirmed would be the goal of Japan’s newest rising son.

Seven-year-old American raider Tuz bested defending Champion Sibelius and a slew of better-on-paper competitors in the Golden Shaheen. The initial race for Purebred Arabians, the Kahayla Classic, became an instant classic as previously undefeated Asfan Al Khalediah went down to Tilal Al Khalediah after a 17-victory string.

And the post-race light show was fantastic as usual. They know how to throw a party in Dubai.

On such a night of racing riches, who would want to take the time for a tribute to a 5-year-old gelding whose last two minutes on earth were spent in a life-ending effort in the $5 million, 1800-meter Dubai Turf?

Someone should.

Catnip was a 5-year-old gelded son of the late Kitten’s Joy—get it?—out of Masquerade by Silent Name, his dam in the Sunday Silence line. As is the case with many geldings running on turf, he was just coming into his own. He was sporting a rising 113 rating and a 10:4-1-2 record.

Saddled by Michael Stidham, Catnip was a winner of three consecutive races, including the G3 Monmouth Stakes at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park before finishing second in the July 22 G1 United Nations Turf. A disappointing eighth in the Aug. 12 G1 Arlington Million, he nonetheless scored his highest speed figure in that race, a 108. His most recent effort before shipping to Dubai was a third-place finish in the Jan. 24 G1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational.

Co-breeder/owner Susan Moore discussed her rising star in an interview with Twinspires. In horse racing, there are horse owners and horse lovers: Moore’s love of her homebred is obvious:

Moore hoped Catnip would be racing until he was nine. His career and his life would end barely into his fifth year.

He was last seen by this writer and a few others yards away, his shattered right foreleg flopping hopelessly in the Dubai night, his saddle cloth askew but still on, actually completing the race genetically in his bones.

He was sans rider Christophe Lemaire, thrown to the Meydan turf as Catnip, vying for the lead, suddenly faded at 300 meters and broke down catastrophically 100 meters from the race’s end. Lemaire was later diagnosed with a fractured collarbone and rib injuries and will be off the track for an undetermined time.

Catnip’s injury was so severe that the only image it called to mind for me was the all-time tragic breakdown of the great filly, Ruffian, during her Jul. 7, 1975 match race at New York’s Belmont Park against that year’s Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure.

As a trackside photographer and experienced journalist, I know I should have been snapping away: For a journalist in these moments, a human—or, in this case equine, tragedy—can represent a career opportunity, an unfortunately easy sale.

But I love horses and cats, so my only reaction to what I was witnessing was an audible string of unrepeatable words and phrases that continued for minutes while stalking trackside. I never took a photograph.

The frightened horse was corralled by Meydan’s wonderful outriders nearly a quarter-mile later. Everyone familiar with racing knew what would happen next: A green screen would surround the fallen horse still on the racetrack to spare horrified onlookers the fatal injection that would end Catnip’s life.

That was the awful part. The horrible part is that the fallen Catnip would not be mentioned, not after the calamity, not during the rest of the evening, barely in the stories of writers there covering the event.

This has happened before. And, yes, at Meydan, a place I love in a city that has been so gracious to me over the course of two decades.

Catnip before the his fatal race at Meydan. ©Richard R. Gross

In 2012, during the inaugural G3, now G2 Dubai Gold Cup, a marathon on turf, Fox Hunt broke down catastrophically in the first 100 meters. It was the first breakdown I ever witnessed live. The green screen was drawn around the fataled horse. I was aghast.

Because it was lying in what would have been the final stretch finish, the race was halted. But the remaining horses were on the deep backstretch by that time, having completed over one mile. A meeting of track management and horse connections was called and it was decided to rerun the entire 3200-meter, nearly two-mile Gold Cup from the start after that evening’s World Cup.

Many in the media room were incredulous. A primed Thoroughbred racehorse is exhausted for days, often weeks, after running a usual 1 1/4-mile, 12-furlong race, not to mention a 3200 meter, 16-furlong marathon. To ask those horses to run again? On the same day? From the race’s start?

The result was near-predictable. In the backstretch, Grand Vent was pulled up and Bronze Cannon broke down moments later in a re-race won by Opinion Poll.

A colleague would begin his raceday recap “Dubai World Cup marred by Three Horse Deaths.” That headline would never appear in his posted story. Nor would there be any mention of the tragedy from the media team at Meydan.

That official silence would be repeated Saturday night.

Wanting to confirm which horse had broken down, I asked several of the outriders returning from the place where the green screen had been erected. All said they were unsure. Finally, another Meydan employee confirmed: “We are not allowed to say.”

Responding to the incident, veterinary surgeon Dr. Patty Hogan posted on X:

“Who was CATNIP?? It’s important to know. A very kind and intelligent horse. Lovely to be around. Strikingly tall, dark and handsome. Not one vice. Loved to run. Carrots were his weakness. Bred and raised by caring and conservative owners – had frequent visits to the farm here just for grass and R&R. Not a single surgery. An easy keeper. Adored and pampered. Loved his morning stretching exercises. Thrived at Meydan during Dubai Week. And then…a trip and a hard fall in a tight pack at the finish of the Turf resulting in an irreparable catastrophic rare radial (forearm) fracture. In an instant, gone. Devastating to lose any horse whether in its field, on the racetrack, over a jump. Those of us who knew and cared for him will never get over it…”

Horse breakdowns have become a contentious issue, fueling those who oppose the sport in America. In recent years, the Breeders’ Cup has acknowledged the few incidents that have occurred, explaining the circumstances and offering condolences to the horse’s connections.

Meydan, in fact every racing venue, needs to do the same. Acknowledging Catnip’s passing would not have diminished the day’s races; it would have dignified them.