Who said Kiwis can’t fly? Star jumper Zed Em winning the Grand Annual Steeplechase [5500m] in front of a packed crowd at Warrnambool. PHOTO/RACING PHOTOS

Plenty of races left in sprightly champ

ELI HILL
eli.hill@age.co.nz

As far as beginnings go, Wairarapa-owned steeplechaser Zed Em’s are about as humble as they get – he’s descended from a mare nobody wanted and was sired for just $500.

But now Zed Em is the hottest steeplechaser in Australasia after winning the $350,000 Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool, at the start of this month.

But that’s just his latest success – the eight-year-old has won 16 of his 43 starts and earned more than $1 million over his career.

The horse’s winning form has been an “adrenaline rush” for the five Wairarapa farmers who own him.

Zed Em’s story begins two generations back when Mike Southey was given Zed Em’s grandmother – the horse nobody wanted.

The mare then went on to have a foal called Don’t Kick My Float – Zed Em’s mother.

Don’t Kick My Float was raced in Wairarapa by a syndicate of four, winning one race and placing near the top in a few.

Roz Southey and Jenny Booth, two of Zed Em’s owners, with the Australian newspaper that featured Zed Em on its front cover after the Grand Annual Steeplechase. PHOTO/ELI HILL

After the syndicate disbanded, three other farmers, Bill Shannon, and Craig and Jenny Booth joined Mike and Roz Southey as owners of the horse.

Don’t Kick My Float was eventually retired from racing and bred with Little Avondale Stud’s ‘Zed’ for a service fee of just $500.

After Zed Em was born he spent three years “on the hills” at the Booth’s farm in Whareama before being broken in.

Jenny Booth said he was then sent to Whanganui-based trainer Kevin Myers.

“Myers saw something in the horse that perhaps nobody else at the time picked up – that he could jump.

“He’s eight years old at the moment so it’s been a wait. Steeplechasers are generally older horses,” Booth said.

While Zed Em competed in New Zealand, it was only when he travelled to Australia four years ago that he began to come into his prime.

This year he’s had three wins from his last three races, with his handicap weight of 70kg, the most carried to victory in the Grand Annual since 1950.

For the past two years, Zed Em has won the JJ Houlahan Championship Trophy – presented to the horse which gathers the most points in the 16 races of the JJ Houlahan Championship series.

Southey said that she and her husband, Mike, travelled to Australia each year to watch the horse compete.

“It’s a huge adrenaline rush, very emotional, almost unbelievable to think where he’s come from and what’s he’s achieving just from Wairarapa. He’s the top steeplechaser in Australasia at the moment.

“Last time we were away for a month, this time we were away for a month and campervanned.

“We were just following this horse, basically, lapping up the opportunity.”

Southey said that Zed Em is unbeaten at the Oakbank Racecourse where he’s taken five wins from five starts.

“He’s a beautiful, beautiful horse, he’s super calm, has an awesome temperament and he just loves his work.

“He doesn’t want to be turned out, doesn’t like living in a paddock – he likes to be busy doing what he was bred to do.

“He loves racing, he loves the steeplechase, he loves just being at the races.”

Committee members at Oakbank told the owners that the Wairarapa gelding “owns” the course and are looking to install a photo of him in their old stewards’ room.

Southey said the horse also had a strong fan club at home.

“They packed out the Kuripuni Sports Bar when the race was on and practically shouted the roof off when Zed Em won.”

During winter, Zed Em, who has his own passport, flies home to New Zealand where he’s looked after by Myers.

Southey and Booth think the gelding still had plenty of races ahead of him.

“He lives the best life as a steeplechaser, he’s fit, and he loves what he does. That’s what makes him special.”