Zed Em out to defend crown

Zed Em
Patrick Payne with Zed Em after winning the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) at Warrnambool last year. Photo: Alice Laidlaw/Racing Photos

Zed Em looks to be on track to defend his crown in the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) at Warrnambool next month after his eye-catching win over 2000m at Werribee on Saturday.

The Patrick Payne-trained gelding struggled to keep contact with his rivals for the majority of the race, sitting as much as five lengths behind the pack. He showed his staying qualities from the 600m mark where he was able to gather in the rest of the field and run away to a 1-3/4 length victory over Elvision.

The nine-year-old son of Zed has been sent to Payne by Wanganui trainer Kevin “Dummy” Myers in a bid to go back-to-back in next month’s Grand Annual. Payne was pleased with Saturday’s win and said it came as a bit of a surprise despite the talented jumper being backed into $3 favouritism. “It was a nice win and a good training exercise as well,” Payne said. “With Oakbank being called off he just needed a conditioning run. He was in good order, but I wasn’t expecting him to win. I was pleasantly surprised.”

Payne said he wasn’t concerned with his runner being so far off the pace early on in the race, but admitted he did become a bit concerned at the 800m mark. “He doesn’t need to be in a winning position until he needs to be in a winning position,” he said. “Going out of the straight the first time I had no problem with him being so far last, but at the 800m mark when she (Tahlia Hope, jockey) was asking him to go and he was still last I thought this might not end very well. “But to his credit he was able to show a lot of stamina and got home well.”

Zed Em will likely have one more run before the Grand Annual. “There is a steeplechase at Pakenham on the 19th (of April),” Payne said. “It would be very tricky for him there, he likes a course where it is a little bit of a novelty where he can out jump them. “He just needs a good, hard jumping race to get him ready for the Grand Annual on May 7.”

Payne has developed a successful association with Myers and he said the Wanganui conditioner has sent over a couple of other runners to campaign in Victoria. “He has also sent over Hey Happy and Duke of Plumpton. They have both been good. Duke of Plumpton won his first start in Australia on Sunday at Echuca, and Hey Happy has won his last couple of races. “We will slowly step through the grades with both of them Hey Happy is racing at Bendigo on Tuesday. “He has won his last two, which means he is up in grade. He has trained on well and looks to be going the right way, but it won’t be easy for him to win.”