Zed Em (NZ) ridden by Steven Pateman clears a steeple on the way to winning the Waterfront by Lyndoch Living Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool Racecourse on May 02, 2019 in Warrnambool, Australia. (Pat Scala/Racing Photos)
Perhaps the only thrill greater than owning the winner of the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m) is if you also bred the champion.
For five ‘knockabout’ Kiwis, that dream became a reality when Zed Em put in a flawless display of jumping to take out Australia’s most prestigious jumps race and turn the tables on Gold Medals, his conqueror in 2018.
The quintet – Michael and Roz Southey, Craig and Jenny Booth, and their farming friend Bill Shannon – have been on the journey from the very start.
They sent Kiwi mare Don’t Kick My Float to Zed – whose progeny also include Group 1 Australasian Oaks winner Very Elleegant – and the result was Zed Em.
Eight years on, the Southeys and Bill travelled over from their native New Zealand to witness Zed Em’s crowning glory in the $350,000 feature race on the final day of Warrnambool’s May Racing Carnival.
The Booths, meanwhile, watched the action from their hometown of Masterton, in New Zealand’s Wellington region, and would no doubt have celebrated long into the night.
The Wool Shed sheep shearing museum and the annual Golden Shears competition are popular tourist attractions in Masterton, but the five friends have always been more interested in equine, rather than ovine pursuits. And if Zed Em can continue his winning streak and even defend his crown in 12 months’ time, the mayor of Masterton may even agree to build a monument in his honour.
Acclaimed by no less a judge than Bill Wilde – whose son Symon trains Gold Medals – as the greatest jumper of the last 25 years, Zed Em now boasts career prizemoney earnings close to $1 million, with the Grand Annual following hard on the heels of his Von Doussa-Great Eastern double at Oakbank last month.
The jockey on all three occasions was Steve Pateman, labelled a “genius” by Zed Em’s equally canny trainer, Patrick Payne.
Born and raised in Margaret River but now based in the Victorian coastal town of Barwon Heads, Pateman left his rivals all at sea when he pressed the accelerator through the famous Tozer Road double.
Despite a gallant run from Gold Medals, who was on the quick back-up from the Brierly Steeplechase on the opening day of the May Racing Carnival, Zed Em was too strong and became the first horse in the 147-year history of the great race to carry 70kg to victory.
Speaking afterwards, Pateman paid tribute to the horsemanship of Payne, whose obsession with adding a fourth Grand Annual to his resumé led him to build a miniature replica of the course on his Plumpton property in Melbourne’s north-west.
A quiet overachiever, nobody could accuse Payne of seeking the limelight – indeed, if anything he actively avoids it.
Instead, Payne was happy to leave the talking to Zed Em’s jubilant owners, who could scarcely believe their luck.
“This was probably better than our wedding day,’’ said Roz Southey.
“We were confident he would go well, but I was terribly nervous before the race. I shouldn’t have worried though. He just loves what he does, and we’re so lucky to have him.
“It’s a shame Craig and Jenny couldn’t make it over, but they would’ve been celebrating. And I know there was a crowd at the Kuripuni Sports Bar in Masterton, who would’ve shouted the roof off when he won. He’s got a big following back home.’’
Expect that following to grow significantly in the coming months…