This last weekend would have been the first race for most Federations in the country, and ironically, we have had some of the best pre-season weather in years. It is so frustrating that this lockdown has prevented us from enjoying our hobby to its fullest, but we must accept the gravity of the circumstances we are living through. There is no one on this earth that has ever seen anything like this, the whole world has shut down, gone home and stayed there because it is a serious life or death situation.
Speculation and opinions are rife on the social media platforms and I have personally experienced a range of emotions over the past few weeks in which I am not alone. How can I best protect my loved ones? Will I have any income? Will there still be a job for me? Will I even survive considering underlying health conditions? Ironically, as well as dealing with these anxieties, the most commonly asked question I have by telephone is “when do you think we will I be able to race our pigeons” and I normally answer, “we should talk about that in the pub!” because in reality, until it is safe to do so, should we even be considering racing or training our pigeons. And even when the pubs are open, there will be a lot of very worried fanciers with serious underlying health conditions, whose families will not want them to risk going to the pigeon club headquarters.
Those of us on the many management committees in the sport have to consider not only the risk assessment to mark our birds for the races, but also the clock strike after the race is flown once we get going again. If we fail to alleviate any and all concerns, I can envisage a very low turnout for all organisations with the obvious financial losses, which some will find difficult to survive. Instead of coming up with alternative race programmes based on various speculative scenarios, we should consider putting together a nationwide Method Statement on how we can go through the whole process of a race, from basketing to result, which is safe for all concerned and when we are able to do so, we can pick up with the race season as the situation unfolds.
The National Flying Club Committee have a plan and are ready to make the decisions required once the lockdown has been lifted on social gatherings, but they are also very aware that our members and their families will still be worried and need to know that the sport as a whole has a plan of action in place to eliminate any risk of them coming in contact with this virus. The Government is likely to slowly lift the lockdown restrictions to enable the NHS to cope with the cases as they arise, but the virus will still be out there, and our sport has to ensure that our fanciers are safe and can compete for many years to come….
On a brighter note I thought I would put together a summary of the National Flying Club winners for 2019 season, in order to lift our sprits as we reflect on the fabulous achievements made by them last year.
The first race of the 2019 season for the National Flying Club took place on the 19th May after a one-day holdover and as it unfolded it became one of the most challenging for a long time so early in the season. The overall winner was Phil Priddle from Southampton, a 78 year old fancier who began in the sport at 17 years old and racing a long-established strain of his own bred down from his original Lefevre-Dhaenens. Phil is good friends with Tony Cowan who gave him the nod in the early years of his strain building whenever he knew of a decent bird being put up for sale. He managed to acquire a son of “Magic Blue” and birds down from “Eisenhower” “Ben Jonson” as well as the “Miracle” Lines and it is these pigeons that still run through his loft to this day. He is a meticulous record keeper and will make notes of every pigeon and it is with this in-depth knowledge of the individual bird’s abilities he has managed to blend these bloodlines to sprint for him up to 250 miles.
Being right on the south coast he is racing the channel most weekends and he has a pragmatic approach to his system. Based loosely on the roundabout system he will keep a partner at home all the time if it is paired to a promising cock bird as he knows they will soon become disheartened if there is no reward waiting every time they race. The rest are raced through to Messac with his hens being exercised first every morning for an hour followed by the cocks, which is repeated again in the evening.
In his own words, he said that over the years his lofts have evolved into a “Shanty Town” of sheds and aviaries with the comfort and happiness of the birds being paramount. The young birds can sit in the aviary all day to get accustomed to their surroundings safely and the old pigeons nest in their boxes or wherever they choose. It has often been said that we do not race the loft and it is nice to see a happy “pigeon” environment and if this can be achieved everyone has the opportunity to win the National, however humble the loft structure.
Early season they will rear one round with them being paired to ensure the bloodlines continue as Phil wants before being separated for the racing season. It has been a hard start for his birds this year with the weather not helping to prepare for the National racing ahead and he is grateful for the officials of the Sholing Pigeon Club. Phil asked if he could mention his good friend Clive Ret, the club President who freely gives his time and efforts as well as allowing the members to use his yard as their headquarters. Amazingly he also informed me their Club Secretary, Len Painter is still going strong at 87 years old.
Phil would also like to thank the workers and officials at the National Flying Club Marking station in helping to keep the sport going and of course the friends who called to congratulate him on his National win.
The second race of the season for the National Flying Club took place on the 1st of June from Messac, France. A total of 5128 pigeons were entered by 602 members from Scotland, Wales and England which were liberated at 7:15am into a clear blue sky and light south east wind.
Recording the fastest velocity on the day were Underhill & Prettejohn in Plymouth with two sibling hens that are raced on the natural system. Both bred from the very best of long-distance bloodlines, these hens share the same parents and are being prepared to race the Tarbes Grand National in a few weeks’ time. Arriving together and clocking just seconds apart, they won both 1st and 2nd Open for the partnership who had previously been 1st Open National Flying Club Fougeres in 2017.
After rearing a youngster, the race teams are separated and the partners practice widowhood for the cocks and natural for the hens. They used to race the roundabout system but Mike felt the hens were not happy and moped about a little, so they switched over to natural for the hens team. The hens were obviously very well motivated as one was sent sitting a ten day old youngster and the other had been incubating her eggs for fourteen days.
With Tarbes in mind the long-distance loft is populated with some of the very best long-distance breeding in the UK today, with an emphasis on two-day racing. “Wingdown”, “Little Gem”, “True Grit”, “Legacy”, “Rainy Day Boy” and “Incredible” all feature very strongly in the race team, as only direct children will suffice in the select breeding loft. Indeed, the sire of the two hens is “Imperial” a direct son of Louellas “Incredible” 10 times a National / International prize winner from 997km to 1276km
Including 3 x Barcelona 1276km, 46th National Barcelona 8,042b, 48th National
Montauban 8,346b 997km, 115th International Barcelona 27,566b 1276Km
183rd National St Vincent 6,621b 1107Km. When paired to his own daughter with “Amazing Grace” who flew six times Barcelona and Perpignan 698 miles to 798 miles. The dam “National Treasure” is a hen bred by Alwyn Hill direct out of “Wingdown” 1st sect 2nd Open Tarbes 2808b, 1st sect 4th Open Tarbes 3290b, 2nd sect 7th Open Tarbes 3808b from a distance of 676 miles, when paired to a direct daughter of “Isla’s Rainy Day Boy” 1st sect, 1st National and 1st International Pau. He in turn was paired to the “Rozenbrabd Hen “a direct daughter of “Champion 19” 1st Long distance Champion.
So all in all, the two sisters are extremely well bred for the long-distance races but failed to get the memo this past weekend. They obviously broke immediately for home, a trait passed down from their illustrious ancestors no doubt, but in doing so they had to cross 120 miles of sea in order to take the direct line to Plymouth, a leap of faith also demonstrated in their pedigree. The winning hen “Rose”, albeit by a few seconds, was entered into a club show in the winter of 2018 which was judged by Andrew Mabin, who himself is a previous winner of the NFC and was given the grand title of “Best in Show” and “Grace” was given second in the Channel Hens Class so “Andrew really can pick ‘em” said Mike.
Steve and Denise Wiggins from Basingstoke expected a five, to five and half hour fly for the birds to cover the 290 miles to their loft, so when their widowhood cock appeared from nowhere and flew straight into the loft at four hours forty four minutes. They knew he would be a good one as he had shown previous form just three weeks ago by winning 7th Open Messac with the CSCFC, but they did not expect to win outright. It was not until four thirty, when a friend called say they were at the top off the leaderboard, that they realised just how good their time was and a tense couple of hours followed, with all the family repeatedly checking the website to watch the northern times coming up one by one, just short of their velocity. They were over the moon when they received confirmation that they head provisionally won the Premier Distance Club in Great Britain, especially because their three year old granddaughter had asked Grandad Steve to “win the big race” for her birthday, which was on that very same day.
As a boy, Steve and his brother lived in Putney and caught stray pigeons which were housed in tea chests. Their father, seeing the keen interest his boys had shown in the pigeons, decided to buy them a small garden loft with which to race their birds, but as their teenage years advanced, their father “Wiggo” gradually took over as they went on to other things. One such distraction was Denise, who met Steve at school aged 13 and they have been together ever since, being married for the last 46 years. When they were first married, they lived Carshalton, London and as they had a decent sized garden, Steve asked Denise if she would mind if he put up a pigeon loft. “Not at all” was her reply and from then on, they both became involved in the pigeon sport together, and Steve said that he could not do it without her.
They soon put together a winning team of birds, raced on the widowhood system and one ambition his father held was for them to win the Fulham Open which was a huge race at the time. Steve entered his cocks and won first and second that day, making his Dad really happy for them to have achieved the win. Subsequently his Dad, known locally as to his friends “Wiggo”, passed away over 20 years ago, which is when Steve lost interest in the birds and consequently, he and Denise moved to Spain for a few years. But the pigeon bug had bitten him hard and Steve began to help one of the locals in Spain to race his birds whilst all the time keeping a keen interest in the UK Pigeon Journals. Eventually they returned to the UK and moved to Basingstoke to be near their sons, which was just over five years ago, and once their homemaking was complete, a new twenty four foot loft was constructed which is when the search for quality bloodlines began.
Steve had decided the De Raul Sablon pigeons were putting up good performances and would also make a good cross for most other middle distance families, so he acquired a few from Mick McMurchie in Fife, who also had Peter Veenstra “Mr Blue” lines which soon began winning for them in their local club and federation. But their heart was in channel racing, holding the Classics and National racing as their main goals in Basingstoke, with the first major win being with the Central Southern Classic FC in 2018 from Bergerac and now, just one year later, adding a first open National Flying Club.
They have bought quality stock birds with channel racing in mind, going to Geoff Kirkland and Mark Gilbert for particular lines. Indeed, they had purchased a double granddaughter of “Euro Diamond” from Mark which unfortunately escaped over Dee’s head one blustery evening at the loft. But once he recounted the loss to Mark, thinking it may get reported to him via the ring number, he replaced the pigeon free of charge with one exactly the same way bred, which Steve said illustrates the generous nature of the man.
There is no doubt going to be further National and Classic success achieved by this very affable husband and wife partnership, and considering the general rule is that it takes five years to build a team to race the channel, in five years they have won two already, so I am sure many more will follow.
The first place in National Flying Club Tarbes Grand National is the most coveted title in the UK pigeon sport without exception. It presents the biggest haul of silverware that can be won in any race in the country, accumulated in more than 100 years of the National Flying Club history. These trophies have been donated over the last century by Royalty and the working class alike with the names of Champions engraved upon them that dedicated themselves to the challenge of the Grand National.
Darran McFadden timed a good pigeon from Tarbes Grand National and for a while he was top of the leader board. Calls began coming in from friends to congratulate him, but he remained pragmatic as he knew there were other great pigeons racing further north into the UK, but he did not need to worry, as he won 1st National Flying Club from Tarbes.
His winning hen “Queen Mary” is from a long line of distance birds he has developed over the years which originated from two main sources, Kirkpatrick and Eric Cannon. Eric had left behind a legacy of long distance pigeons when he passed away and Darran was lucky enough to be given a young bird by Les Swan which did very well, so when Les went to live in Spain, he gave him the parents. Malcolm Parker also bred him “Megans Lad” and Ray Hammond won the L&SECC with “Simply the Best” out of which he gave Darran a young bird with the promise that it would also win the Classic from Tarbes and two years later she did, so called her “Razor’s Girl” and put her to stock. He went to Louella in 2001 and purchased three Kirkpartick grizzle hens down from “Stan the Man”. One of them bred a very good white hen “Camron Snow Queen” which flew Pau, Tarbes and won a Merit Award in the Classic. She was paired to an Eric Cannon cock that also raced well from the distance and after their final Tarbes race, they were put to stock and bred “Snow Prince” “Dark Prince” 14th Open Tarbes, 11th International Pau and many other proven pigeons have come through this pair.
“Queen Mary” was paired early season with a selected partner and her eggs were given to feeders before being returned to the race loft and the love of her life, a seventeen year old cock that has bred “all the Dukes” as Darran calls them. He is a quiet, unassuming cock which does not chase her around the loft and “she’s all over him” he said so she was sent to the race sitting 14-day old eggs. Her feeding for the race began months ago said Darran, with Van Robaeys number 39 being used as a base mixture with fats added in the form of Peanuts and Sunflower Hearts. He uses all Dr Brockamp products and says that they are used the whole year round to keep his birds in the best of condition. “you cannot expect to win the Premier race in the country if you neglect the birds during the off season” he said, “and the most important time for the preparation is the moult”.
The fifth race of the season for the National Flying Club took place from Sigogne on the 21st July after a one-day holdover. A total of 403 members sent 2403 of their pigeons and the overall winner is Mike Hughes from Market Drayton in Shropshire.
Over the past few years, Mike’s main ambition has been to win a National, and after winning his section twice, being 2nd Open and 4th Open, he thought it would never come. He is over the moon to have won, although it was a very tense time for him and his wife whilst waiting for confirmation, knowing there would be fanciers further north yet to time in. They both play a very active role in the pigeons and as Mike is self-employed, a team approach is needed although he said he is able to take time to be with the birds as and when required. His son Daniel has also become very keen over the last three years with his own team at different location, and this had allowed Mike and his wife to go on holiday for a week, knowing the birds would be very well looked after. “Just let them out when you can” Mike said before they left, although Daniel did not want to, and the pigeons were confined to the loft for a week. This was just four weeks ago, so when they returned Mike sent them to Messac with the local club to tighten up their fitness, a nice ten hour fly would do them good he thought. It turned out to be a little more difficult and the National winning pigeon took thirteen and a half hours before he came, “although he flew straight through the window to his hen waiting in his box and looked as fresh as a Daisy” Mike said.
The following few days he was bouncing around the loft, flying off on his own for ten minutes or so, when Mike discovered he was chasing a little blue hen at his friends loft just down the street. Locally known as “Tiny” Mike asked him if he could borrow the hen, just in case he needed it, as the cock was so interested in her. He agreed and the hen was put to one side. The little cock was being so individual around the loft and returned from Messac without being tired, Mike decided to mark him down for the National Flying Club race from Sigogne, a distance of 506 miles.
On marking day he put the widowhood hens to the team as usual and when he picked up the little cocks hen, she began cooing strongly so he thought she would be alright for the cock and she went all over him straight away, but after a while she lost interest and just sat looking out of the box so Mike removed her and waited five minutes before replacing her with the new blue hen borrowed from Tiny. She went crazy when she saw him and was all over him, so much so that his plumage had to be straightened out as he was put into the basket to go to the marking station with just two other loft mates. “it was Tiny’s blue hen that made him come” he said. So he has called his little chequer National winner “Tiny”.
In a very neat and tidy set up, Mike races a very small team of pigeons, and although he has enough nest boxes in his lofts for many more cocks, he prefers to keep just four or five per section. He says he has advised his son Daniel “the most important thing is to find the individuals and the only way is to watch them, so you can give them your full attention”, this he finds is more effective with just a few good birds. He races the team on the traditional widowhood system, paired up on Valentine’s Day, allowed to rear youngsters, and parted when they are sitting six to eight days on the second round of eggs. If one or two pairs take longer to go down, he will pot egg them and not let them rear at all hens and young birds can come away at the same time, letting the team settle into a routine as quick as possible. They are fed in a trough and Versele Super Widowhood is in front of them all day, they can have what they want and are never hungry. The feeder is removed each evening and any excess is given to the young birds, so nothing goes to waste and Mike insists it is important that the birds can pick out what they want, when they want. He has not used any medication for ten years or more and keeps everything as natural as possible, the only thing they get is multi vitamins on a Sunday in the water. His young birds are races natural too, he does not put them on the darkness and thinks it is too stressful on the birds to have them moult twice in one year. “They have enough stress and strain during the season without putting them through that” he said. He thinks it is the cause of young bird sickness experienced by many these days, although his birds do not get it.
Coutances Y/B and O/H
The final race of the 2019 season for the National Flying Club took place from Coutances on the 7th of September when 395 members sent 3246 young birds and 195 members also raced 915 old hens. The birds were liberated at 7:00am in a light north west with a more westerly wind in the channel veering NNW further into the country, they cleared immediately and true to form the first birds to be verified were in the Portsmouth area.
I had been staying at Portsmouth myself to attend a family wedding and left to make the journey to Brighton at around 10:30 on the Saturday morning. I spotted a kit of around 50 pigeons coming straight off the sea, heading north and was thinking they might be National Flying Club pigeons when Linda pointed out another large batch of two or three hundred coming from the direction of the Isle of Wight, only to be followed by another several hundred pigeons, strung out in a line, also heading north.
The winning young bird flew to the loft of Malik and Khan, also known as “Team Ace”, situated right at the top of the A3 in Tolworth London and just two minutes later it was followed by a loft mate to take first and second open, with yet another a few minutes later to be ninth open provisional. They were delighted to win the National Flying Club and when I arrived I was met at the door by Imran Malik followed by his son Ibrahim who said “my Dad was going to take me fishing this morning, but he said we had won the big one, so I don’t mind not going” Whilst Imran was making a cup of tea his partners Atif and Fez Khan arrived, and we discussed the fact that they use the darkness system with their young birds which were sent sitting fourteen days with regular training.
They had previously won the BICC from Falaise this season with the old birds and at that time they told me they like to keep around forty young birds and will train them very hard as they are looking for every opportunity to test them. “They will go to every federation race available with two national races at the end of the season. They are raced on the darkness system so they are in good feather throughout and when moving them over to the race loft at the end of the season, they will be confident they will perform as yearlings having proven themselves. Sometimes small third round of about ten youngsters hatched in May, will be tried with plenty of work and some of their best prospects have come from these.”
They are good friends with Jan Hooyman and their first bird “National Ace” is bred from “Harry” lines on the sire’s side when paired with a daughter of “Tip Top Junior” and “Queen of Rekkem” which are Frans Zwols. Their second bird “Nearly Ace” is also half Jan Hooymans “Harry” line when paired to an inbred cock around “As Euro” of Augst Jansen. “Harry” is renowned in the pigeon world as is “As Euro”, “Tip Top Junior” and “Queen of Rekkem” so the partners have really invested their money wisely. Imran had treated his son Ibrahim to a special hair style and was sporting the Nike Swoop cut into the side of his head, which of course means “Just do it” which I thought was very apt as the loft can now add the big one to their list of achievements.
Just six miles over to the north west is the loft of Ken Wise in Isleworth and after leaving the young bird winners I made my way over as he had timed a two year old hen to win the Old Hens race and he had also timed a young bird which was third open so he too had a very good race. “To be fair” said Imran Malik “Ken really sets his hens up for the Nationals, and his young bird was also 8th Open BICC from Guernsey a couple of weeks ago so he should be proud”. Indeed, he is, and he would like to thank his long-standing friend Dick Evans for breeding him the young bird. Dick had bought a very special pigeon from Peter Veenstra and sent a daughter down for Ken to race which has certainly proven her quality, being twice in the top eight competing in major young bird races.
Ken has had pigeons from Myrtle Lofts for many years and all his own birds are bred around those with one very special bird being the grandfather of his loft. He had bought a young bird direct from “Shadow” in 2006 which do not travel too well during the delivery and when it arrived Ken thought he was going to lose him. But he turned himself around after a couple of days which earned him the name “Shadow of Death” and he went on to breed winners from the first nest at all levels right up to National and Open Races. His winning hen “De 376” is a double granddaughter of “Shadow of Death” with “Champion Shadow”, “De Bandiet”, “Comick Girl”, “Rolls Royce”, “Queen of Diamonds”, “Benetton”, “One so wonderful” and “Mistress” in her pedigree plus her dam won 1st SW Sect 1st Open London South East CC and won a RPRA Award in the London Region for best young bird.
He races his old hens on a roundabout system but as room is tight, he adapted the system to suit his requirements. A long aviary about a metre wide runs the full length of his loft with plastic sheeting attached to prevent the birds seeing each other when out for exercise. Just inside the section he has built two cupboards, one either side of the entrance to the nest box section, in which he places the hens when the cocks come in to prevent contact during the week although for this last race, they were paired and sent sitting eggs. He saw this system being used at Dave and John Hawkins loft and is an ideal solution in a small loft set up. In 2018 he was 1st sect, 2nd Open N.F.C. Old Hens from Coutances with an inbred “Champion Shadow” pigeon and 1st sect 2nd Open B.I.C.C. Old Hens from Guernsey with an inbred “Jester” & “Carrie” pigeon from his direct M & D. Evans bloodlines. Ken Wise and Team Ace would like to thank everyone involved in organising the race.