Roz Southey couldn’t resist a tongue-in-cheek comment when describing the thrill of Zed Em’s amazing win under 70kgs when leading home a New Zealand-bred trifecta in the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) at Warrnambool on Thursday.
Southey and her husband, Mike, co-bred and part-own Zed Em with their fellow Wairarapa farming friends, Bill Shannon and Craig and Jenny Booth and she says she will never forget the day, being among the massive crowd gathered at Warrnambool for the highly popular annual feature.
“It’s probably better than getting married,’’ Southey said. “We were confident he would go well, but I was terribly, terribly nervous before the race.
“He just loves what he does and he and Steve (Pateman) are such a great combination. Steve is such a true gentleman and such a great rider.
“We’re so very lucky to have a horse like him and through him we’ve met so many people, like Patrick (trainer Patrick Payne) and the neat staff working for him.”
Zed Em returned $2.90 with online bookmaker Sportsbet.
Shannon was also on hand with the Southeys to witness Zed Em become just the eight horse in 143 years to land the Von Doussa Steeplechase (3250m) – Great Eastern Steeplechase (4950m) double at Oakbank then take the Grand Annual in the same year. Zed Em also won the Oakbank double last year and is unbeaten in five starts on that course.
“The lads had a big night celebrating, but I came back to the motel,” Southey said.
“There were so many emotions going through my head. I just wanted to relax and enjoy it. The lads have got hangovers this morning, but good on them. It was something special to celebrate.
“Craig and Jenny couldn’t make it over, but they would have been celebrating. And I know there was a crowd at the Kuripuni (Sports Bar) in Masterton who would have shouted the roof off when he won. He’s got a big following back home.’’
Ric McIntosh, the enthusiastic Warrnambool race caller, had the Warrnambool crowd cheering wildly as Zed Em outstayed Gold Medals, turning the tables on last year when Gold Medals defeated Zed Em by a mere short half-head in the Grand Annual.
“What a Kiwi he is. He’s a champion. He gets redemption,” McIntosh cried out as Zed Em went past the winning post three lengths ahead of Gold Medals with Spying On You (by Yamanin Vital) a similar margin back in third placing.
“It was awesome,” Mike Southey said. “I was a bit worried halfway down the straight when he and Gold Medals were fighting it out. I feared it was going to be the same as last year.
“He’s some horse, such an honest horse and he just loves jumping. I’m still soaking it up.”
Zed Em, an eight-year-old son of Zed and the Paris Opera mare Dont Kick My Float, has now won 16 of his 43 starts and taken his stake earnings to A$983,607, which equates to more than NZ$1 million.
Zed Em therefore joins another former stablemate Sea King (by Shinko King), who passed the NZ$1 million prizemoney mark when winning his finale, last year’s Grand National Steeplechase (4500m) at Ballarat.
Sea King was also part of the highly successful trans-Tasman combination of Wanganui’s Kevin Myers and Payne. Myers prepared Sea King in New Zealand then sent him to Payne’s Melbourne stable, just as he has done with Zed Em.
Myers prepared Zed Em with long, slow hill-work and sent him over to Payne in March after a preparatory flat run for fourth over 1900m at Wairoa a few weeks earlier.
“Dummy Myers’ team sent this horse over in fantastic order,” Payne said. “It’s a pretty heart-wrenching race. Every jump you’ve got your heart in your mouth.”
Pateman also shares the link between Sea King and Zed Em, but was reluctant to label Zed Em on top.
“I think Sea King was the best jumping horse,” he said. “He won the National. But this horse is just a unique horse. He loves the novelty course, he needs a lot of jumps and he’s tough.
“He was weighted against today. You wouldn’t have thought he would have been able to beat these horses, but he doesn’t know that. He just carries on and you just can’t stop him.”
Zed Em has won 13 of his 20 jumps starts and his 70kgs impost in the Grand Annual win is the most weight carried to victory in the feature since The Feline won with 74kgs in 1950.
“To carry that weight, that was something pretty special,” Pateman said. “It’s our Melbourne Cup. It’s even bigger than that for me, It’s the mecca.”
It was the third Grand Annual win for Patemen and the fourth for Payne and both horsemen are already looking forward to boosting their tallies with Zed Em next year as the conditions of the race stipluate the topweight can carry no more than 70kgs.