By Michael Manley
Champion trainer, Patrick Payne, has opted for top New Zealand jumps jockey, Aaron Kuru, to partner his star jumper Zed Em (NZ) in the Grand Annual Steeplechase at Warrnambool.
Payne’s other option was champion jockey, Steven Pateman, but he felt in the end he didn’t have a choice.
“Aaron came over here three months ago and every morning he is riding 15 horses in track-work and his partner, Lisa Peterson, also rides six and then works in the office for me,” Payne said.
“Aaron is also a gifted rider.”
Payne said Pateman understood how the decision was reached.
“Steve is also a trainer and he knows how things work. He’s very understanding as to why we’ve made this decision. There’s no problem with him with the decision and I’ll continue to use him in the future,” Payne said.
Kuru has ridden Zed Em in both of his Australian starts this year which have produced seconds in the Von Doussa Steeplechase and the Great Eastern Steeplechase at Oakbank.
Payne said Zed Em was racing as well as he ever had but the problem was the weight he had to carry and that would again be the case on Thursday.
“In the Von Doussa that used to be a set weights and penalties event where he had a huge advantage but they changed that and he had to carry 70kg.”
Zed Em will carry 71kg in the Grand Annual Steeplechase which will be his only run for the week.
“That’s two kilos less than he carried last year so that’s something but he still has to carry 71kg,” he said.
“He’s good, sound, happy and well. I think the weight is starting to catch up with him a bit though.”
“It’s making it very difficult for him. I don’t know how much longer we can continue to send him around carrying those weights,” he said.
Payne said Zed Em was a very slow horse but his strength was his competitive nature.
“He’s not blessed with talent but he wants to win.”
It will be the fourth Grand Annual Zed Em has contested in a row. He won the race in 2018, finished second in 2019 and third last year.
Payne also has Sweet Lullaby and Macklemore (NZ) in the Brierly Steeplechase on Tuesday.
“I think going up the hills will suit Sweet Lullaby and Macklemore will have to handle the rise in grade.”
He said he would see how the pair go in the Brierly Steeplechase before he makes a final decision as to whether they would start in the Grand Annual Steeplechase.
Payne is chasing his fifth win as a trainer in the Grand Annual Steeplechase.