It’s probably fair to say that the 2019 Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival was all about Zed Em. Patrick Payne’s 8-year-old, winner of both the Von Doussa and Great Eastern Steeplechases in 2018, was looking to go back-to-back in the two features, and so there was considerable anticipation as to how he would perform as the biggest jumping races in South Australia approached.
Following on from the new format established in 2018, the Von Doussa Steeplechase was run on Sunday 7 April, before the Easter Carnival proper began. Having won this much coveted race in both 2017 and 2018, Zed Em (69 kg) was looking to become the first horse to win three consecutive Von Doussa Steeplechases since Chocolate Royal (1978-80). At the same time, Patrick Payne was aiming for his fourth win in the race, and jockey Steven Pateman his fifth.
As the race unfolded, the result was never really in doubt. Settling in behind the leaders Zataglio and Doc Holliday for much of the first circuit, Steven Pateman positioned his mount in prime position on the rails, and from the off the champion chaser looked in a good rhythm, jumping Oakbank’s famous hedges in his usual economical style.
Zed Em then moved up alongside the leader Zataglio as they passed the judge for the first time, and in response Martin Kelly looked to extend Eric Musgrove’s seasoned campaigner in an attempt to shake off Pateman and Zed Em. However, the Kiwi wasn’t going anywhere, and kept up the pressure on Zataglio until eventually taking the lead at the top of the hill the second time around.
Once in front, Steven Pateman’s Oakbank experience came to the fore, and the moment the leader cleared the last he went hard for home, quickly managing to establish a break on the rest of the field before they had a chance to settle, and then going on to win by about four lengths. Grant Young’s Spying On You, the iron horse of Australian jumps racing, finished off the race strongly as he always does with Tom Ryan aboard, ahead of Simon Wilde’s Doc Holliday (Paul Hamblin) in third.
This win was the second leg of a Payne/Pateman double on Von Doussa Day, after Killarney Kid (68 kg) was an impressive winner in the 3200m Thomas Farms Hurdle. Pateman was the epitome of patience on the odds-on favourite, and was content to settle well towards the rear of the field of six for much of the first circuit. Nick Smart’s October Date (ridden by Richard Cully) and Tom Ryan on Exalted Lightning had established a break and managed to get out about five lengths clear as they passed the winning post first time around.
However, by the time they had got back to where they started the field had begun to bunch and only five or six lengths separated first from last, although the favourite still brought up the rear. As they headed up the back straight, Steven Pateman began to edge up along the rail, and by the time they jumped the last of the treble, Killarney Kid was in prime position behind the leader on the inside.
Richard Cully was putting in a bold, front running ride on October Date, but as they turned for home Steven Pateman wound up the favourite and despite the 9-year-old being a little scratchy over the penultimate jump, he cruised down the straight to take the race by about four lengths, from a strong finishing Murphy’s Delight in second and Casiraghi in third.
As attention turned to the Great Eastern Steeplechase on Saturday 20 April, it was clear that Zed Em was again going to be the horse to beat (especially as he was carrying 68 kg, 1 kg less than in the Von Doussa), and Patrick Payne’s runner was priced at an almost unbackable $1.20.
Taking a different approach to that they adopted in the Von Doussa, Steven Pateman took the Kiwi straight to the front, and he cleared the first about three lengths in front. Zed Em again looked to be in a smooth, fluid rhythm and the 8-year-old was bowling along in front as they completed the first circuit.
However, as they crossed the Shillabeer Road for the second time, Nick Smart’s Getting Leggie, with Rob David aboard, loomed up alongside the leader and headed him as they reached the Fallen Log. Meanwhile, Tom Ryan, who had been content to let the 2017 Great Eastern winner Spying On You race alone at the rear for much of the race, now started to close the gap on the rest of the field of five.
Getting Leggie’s challenge appeared to be short-lived as Zed Em had regained his place at the head of the field by the time they cleared the treble at the top of the hill, but he kicked on once more and pulled alongside Zed Em again as they cleared the last fence on the second circuit.
With a lap to go, the field had bunched up, with only about six lengths separating first from last. Novice chaser Doc Holliday (Daryl Horner Jr) in third and Oakbank stalwart Undergroundfighter (Lee Horner) in fourth, along with Spying On You at the rear, had all jumped well, and a tight finish was in prospect.
Steven Pateman began to pick up the pace on the leader as they climbed the hill for the final time, and in a flash had extended his lead to about three lengths. However, his rivals weren’t to be shaken off lightly, and by the time they reached the Fallen Log on the final lap, the field had bunched up again, before Rob David on Getting Leggie was unfortunately unseated with four jumps to go. As they crossed the Shillabeer Road for the last time, Tom Ryan began to make his move on Spying On You, and the Von Doussa runner-up looked to be in a position to make a challenge for a second Great Eastern win in three years.
However, the class of Zed Em began to show, so Pateman took full advantage and began to set out for home with two to jump. The Kiwi cleared the last about five lengths in front, with Ryan and Spying on You, now in second, looking to be the only viable challenger. Despite the local horse’s gallant attempts to chase down Zed Em in the straight, the leader was too strong and crossed the line about five lengths in front of a strong finishing Spying On You, and Tony Rosolini’s perennial favourite Undergroundfighter in third.
Five feature wins at Oakbank in three years is a remarkable achievement, and undoubtedly places Zed Em in the top rank of chasers seen at this famous jumping course in modern times.
The other feature race on Easter Saturday was the 3600m Thomas Farms Classic Hurdle (formerly known as the Harry D Young Hurdle), and there was controversy before the race even began, with the late scratching on stewards’ advice of the red-hot favourite Killarney Kid, who had won so convincingly at Oakbank thirteen days before. This made it a much more even betting race, with Eric Musgrove’s Murphy’s Delight ($1.95) and local trainer Barry Brook’s Ivan Grozny ($2.60) leading the market.
Despite the small field, it proved to be a good quality race run at a good pace and with a thrilling finish. Richard Cully on Ivan Grozny led the field over the first and was setting a good pace, so much so that the field of five became a little strung out as they jumped the treble up the back straight. However, it had closed up once more by the time they passed the post at the end of the first lap, with Ivan Grozny still out in front, but the 9-year-old was now being challenged by Murphy’s Delight.
The field became tightly bunched once more as they headed into the back straight (with the exception of Tangara, who tailed off and was eventually pulled up). Lee Horner and Murphy’s Delight appeared to be sweating off on the leader Ivan Grozny, just waiting to make a move with three to jump. However, Casiraghi (Rob David) and Zuhayr (Paul Hamblin) were not going to be left behind and, in a sight to warm the heart of any jumps racing fan, four in a line jumped the second last together in the home straight.
In the end, it was Grant Young’s Casiraghi who finished the strongest, clearing the last in front and going on to win by about 1½ lengths from a gallant Murphy’s Delight, with Tony Rosolini picking up another place finish in an Oakbank feature when Zuhayr finished in third.
The jumping continued on Easter Monday (22 April), and there was another success for South Australian horses when Searaven, trained at Oakbank by Barry Brook and ridden by Richard Cully, took out the 3250m Thomas Farms Steeplechase, ahead of Aldous (Steven Pateman having some Oakbank success as a trainer this time), and Pentomatic in third.
In the 3200m Ecycle BM120 Hurdle, it was the turn of Oakbank maestro Eric Musgrove, with fast improving hurdler Mr One Eleven winning convincingly by 10 lengths with Steven Pateman aboard, beating out another from the Musgrove stable Beyond Thankful (Will Gordon), while another SA horse, Cable Bay, trained by Shane Oxlade, finished in third.
Overall, the 2019 Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival provided three days of high quality jumps racing, with the crowd privileged to be able to witness at first hand a genuine chasing star in Zed Em. Thanks must go to the horse’s New Zealand connections for their continued enthusiastic support of Oakbank, and the jumps racing fraternity in South Australia very much hopes to be able to welcome them all back again next year.
It was also an extremely encouraging sign that two of the six jumps races at Oakbank this year were won by South Australian trainers — Grant Young and Barry Brook — while the strong performances of the locally trained Spying on You, who finished second behind Zed Em in both of this year’s feature steeplechases, should also be acknowledged.
The Committee at Oakbank Racing Club (ORC), along with South Australian Jumps Racing (SAJR), remains committed to hurdle and steeplechase racing in SA, and thanks its loyal supporters both here and interstate who continue to make the Easter Racing Carnival one of Australia’s premier jumps race meetings.