Nerves only come but once a year for Patrick Payne, and that time is now. The Warrnambool May Carnival is like Christmas Day for the Victorian trainer and he will once again have several live chances on one of Australia’s biggest days of jumps racing. “I love it,” Payne said. “It’s the only time I really get nervous about the horses racing, so I am looking forward to it. It’s exciting.”
While the carnival is notorious for attracting a large and boisterous crowd, this year’s event will take on a different atmosphere, with racing happening behind closed doors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “It won’t be the same, but we are still grateful to be racing,” Payne said.
The Plumpton trainer will take a handful of runners to Warrnambool on Tuesday where New Zealand jumper Zed Em will be out to defend his crown in the Grand Annual Steeplechase (5500m). The nine-year-old gelding, who will wear the colours of his New Zealand trainer Kevin Myers, disappointed when tailing the field home at Pakenham last start and Payne is hoping he can bounce back to his best in the Grand Annual. “He seems in really good order now,” Payne said. “His last run was below par and his trial since then was only just satisfactory. “But he seems to be picking up all the time and in the last few days he seems in great order.”
Payne admitted the seven kilogram weight disparity between Zed Em and the majority of the field is a major concern, but he remains hopeful of a bold showing from his charge. “Last year he won the Great Eastern Steeplechase (4950m) heading into the Grand Annual, so he was in top form and he was carrying a lot less weight. “We have a lot against us this year. I still think he will run really well and give a good sight, but whether he is quite good enough at the weights remains to be seen.”
Zed Em is a $4.20 third-favourite with TAB Bookmakers for the Warrnambool feature, behind New Zealand-bred jumper Ablaze ($1.80), and Gold Medals ($3.90).
While Payne is more hopeful than confident with Zed Em’s chances on Tuesday, he is a lot more upbeat about Slowpoke Rodriguez in the Brierly Steeplechase (3450m). “His form has been very consistent all the way through,” Payne said. “He doesn’t really stay the marathon distances, so the Brierly and the Australian Steeples should be nice races for him. “He has had a long, steady preparation and he is in great order.”
Slowpoke Rodriguez will also sport Myers’ colours and Payne has labelled him his leading hope of the day. The TAB support Payne’s confidence and have installed the nine-year-old gelding as a $3.30 favourite for the race.
Payne also has a number of other former Kiwis representing his barn on Tuesday, with Ours and Speedy Jax contesting the Decron Dunroe Steeplechase (3450m). “Ours seems in good order,” Payne said. “He is a good jumper, so I am hoping he will run well. Speedy Jax is a good, consistent galloper and he is in good form.”