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Keith Mott writes...


The 2003 Dax International marked the start of a new era in British pigeon racing, when two English fanciers were declared 1st and 2nd open International winners. The British contingent was very strong with the National Flying Club entering a very healthy 739 birds and it's sister club, the British International Championship Club, sending a record birdage of 450 birds.

John Tyerman and I convoyed the N.F.C. birds to Belgium to meet up with the International train, which carried the record 19,400 birds to Dax. Colin Bates, the N.F.C. convoyer travelled in the carriage with the British pigeons and liberated at 06.00hrs, English time, in no wind at the French site, getting up to north east en route. Only six game pigeons were recorded on the day of liberation in Britain and the first two were clocked by fanciers in the West Country.

Britain's first ever 1 st , open International Dax winner was recorded by Brian Sheppard of Trowbridge and on the Sunday morning after the race, I made the 130 mile drive down to Wiltshire to visit his loft and see his champion, now named "Legend". This game blue chequer widowhood cock was paired up on 6 th . December and after rearing a pair of youngsters, was put on the widowhood system when sitting six days on his second pair of eggs. Champion "Legend" had several channel races on his build up to his Dax International win, including training races from Picauville, two from Nantes and the Saintes National. This brilliant two year old cock has had lots of wonderful previous racing form. He recorded 2 nd . section B.B.C. Nantes and 2 nd . section, 6 th . open N.F.C. Saintes in the 2003 season, and as a yearling 34 th . open C.S.C.F.C. Cholet. Brian sent 11 birds to the Dax International, clocking Champion "Legend" just after 19.00hrs on the day, flying 507 miles, and two next morning, with one arriving home when I was at the loft. On "Legend's" dam side he is off Brian's old Pau family, being bred down from his N.F.C. Pau Merit Award winner, "Jingals", and his sire was bred by Jos Thone of As in Belgium , from his champion cock, "Sumo".

Brian has been in the sport 60 years and started up at the age of eight with a pair of tipplers. He now races 25 widowhood cocks to his very smart 20ft. brick built loft and pairs his race team in December. All his pigeons must perform, with yearlings going through to 400 miles and his old birds flying Pau (550 miles). T he cocks are put on the widowhood system after rearing a pair of youngsters, only being trained prior to the first race, and flagged around the loft for regular exercise during the season. The New Wiltshire Continental Club has lots of early races from Picauville and Brian uses these events to get the birds ready for the main National races. He likes all pigeons racing, long and short, but says he gets his biggest thrill out of the long distance events.

The very successful West Country partnership of Crowley & Green were 2 nd . open Dax International in the 2003 season and they clocked their champion blue chequer cock, "Brimstone", at 19.40hrs, flying 514 miles. This ace five year old Van Loon / Janssen widowhood cock has been a brilliant racer in National and Classic events, having won 1 st . open C.S.C.F.C. Bergerac, 43 rd . open N.F.C. Saintes and 43 rd . open B.B.C. Bordeaux. He had several channel races on his preparation for the Dax race. T he partners use the basic widowhood system, pairing up at Christmas and putting their 40 cocks on the system on their second round of eggs. The racers are only lightly trained and are some times sent to the first race on eggs, before going on the system. The cocks are housed in two 24ft. lofts and they are never trained once racing has started. They are fed on a good widowhood mixture and are broken down three days a week during the season. The cocks are sometimes shown their hens or the nest bowl on marking night. Richard told me that their best season was in 2000 when they were: 1 st , 2 nd . and 3 rd . open B.B.C. Bordeaux, 2 nd . and 5 th . open N.F.C. Nantes, and 3 rd , 4 th . and 8 th . open C.S.C.F.C. Bergerac. Brilliant pigeon flying!

The 2004 Dax International was held in July and most fanciers thought the British success in the 2003 event was a "one off" and was unlikely to be repeated. But this wasn't the case in the 2004 race, with two British fanciers storming home to win 1 st . and 2 nd. open Dax International again. The brilliant West Country ace, Brian Sheppard, came close to it a double of International winners, when he clocked his widowhood cock on the day, to record 2 nd . open International. Fantastic pigeon flying by Brian, but it was someone else's turn to win the International that year and the winning pigeon was clocked at the Berkshire loft of Mark and Geoff Gilbert.

Mark Gilbert's International winner was his champion blue Van Elsacker widowhood cock, "Southfield Supreme", clocked at 18.01hrs on the day of liberation, flying 514 miles from Dax. Mark told me the VanElsacker pigeons are a middle distance family, with the sire of "Southfield Supreme" being bred by the Belgium fancier and his dam being bred by Geoff and Catherine Cooper. This game cock is raced on a basic widowhood system, getting two 20 mile training tosses before the first race and four channel races on his build up to the Dax International, including the Nantes National. Champion "Southfield Supreme" has plenty of previous good racing form, winning; 2003: 4 th . open L.& S.E.C.C. Tours, 21 st . open B.I.C.C. Falaise; 2004: 16 th . open L.& S.E.C.C. La Ferte Bernard and a blue pied sister to him has won 15 times 1 st . club and several premier positions in the N.F.C. races.

In the July of 2003 members of the National Flying Club sent 2,739 birds to Pau for the blue Riband race and because of adverse weather conditions at the race point, the convoy was taken back to Saintes for liberation after a two day hold over. I was in Hampshire on a fishing holiday that weekend and was very surprised to here on the telephone that the National birds were liberated at 17.00hrs on the Sunday. Something I had never heard of before in my nearly 35 years in the sport. At the time, a 17.00hrs liberation at 387 miles wasn't something I could get my head around and really, I heard the news with disbelief! It is now common knowledge that it was a massive mistake and made the 2003 Grand National one of the most controversial races in the history of the National Flying Club.

On my return from holiday I was given the great news that one of the sport's gentlemen, Mark Gilbert of Winkfield, near Windsor , had won the National, with a banger of a blue cock bred from a hen he had urchased at Eric Cannon's dispersal sale after his death in 2000. As N.F.C. press officer, the Saturday after the race I visited Mark's home, and I must say it was a double pleasure for me that day, firstly to see Mark's champion blue cock, now named, "Night Flight" and secondly to the Berkshire village of Winkfield, as many years ago, when I was a young lad, my uncle owned a farm there and my brother, Phil and I used to work on it during the school holidays. Wonderful memories!

Mark sent three birds to the Saintes / Pau National, flying 394 miles from Saintes and clocked Champion "Night Flight" at 07.13hrs on the Monday morning to win the National by almost 400 y.p.m. This game blue cock was paired up on 1 st . December, being parted after rearing a pair of youngsters. He was repaired on 1 st . April and after sitting eggs for five days was put on the widowhood system. On his build up to his Saintes / Pau National win he had several short inland club races, several channel races, including Dax (530 miles) with the L.& S.E.C.C., when he recoded 71 st . open. Prior to the 2003 season ha had been only lightly raced, having three races as a young bird and three races as a yearling. Champion "Night Flight" is bred out of a direct Bernard De Weerdt red chequer cock and he is a full brother to the Belgium Champion's 4 th . open Dax International winner. The Grand National winner's dam, a blue hen, is a direct daughter of Eric Cannon's Champion "Culmer Bess", when mated to the "77" stock cock, who is a half brother to Champion "Culmer Channel Queen", being bred out of "Culmer Producer". Champion "Culmer Bess" was Eric's fourth N.F.C. Pau Merit Award winner, recording; 6 th , 26 th ,170 th . open Pau , 47 th . open Saintes / Pau and was the highest priced pigeon at Eric's dispersal sales, being sold for £2,300.


I have known Mark Gilbert for several years. He's from a brilliant pigeon racing family, his father being Geoff Gilbert of Windsor , who won 1 st . open L.& S.E.C.C. Pau a few years ago. Geoff won Pau with his brilliant widowhood dark chequer cock, "The Narrow Cock" and this pigeon was a champion in the truest sense of the word, having won countless prizes in the National and Classic events, including 10 th . open N.F.C. Pau (on the day of liberation), 139 th . open N.F.C. Pau, 40 th . open L.& S.E.C.C. Bordeaux and so no. A fantastic pigeon! At the age of 11 Mark thought he would like to get involved with the pigeons, so began to pester his father who at that time was flying in partnership with Terry Keys of West Drayton. Geoff told Mark to look after the stock birds and he got the biggest telling off of his life when mixed up all the eggs in the stock loft! The Gilberts flew for many years in a partnership with John Haines of Slough and they won numerous premier prizes including 1 st . open S.M.T. Combine. Mark says that his dad is his best friend and must take a lot of the loft's recent National and International success as he is really his partner and works in Mark's Winkfield loft every day. In fact, he told me he couldn't race his pigeons properly without his dad's help!


Mark has lived at his present address for only five years and Champion "Night Flight" is a broken pigeon, having flown out as a young bird to his previous house. He is only really interested in races over 500 miles and races 90 cocks on the widowhood system. Mark and Geoff are great friends with Geoff and Catherine Cooper of Peasedown and the Winkfield loft is managed on the Cooper's methods. Mark mixes his own Geoff Cooper long distance corn mixture, which is made up of three parts maize, one part wheat, one part Red Band and nearly two parts protein. The racers are paired up in December and after rearing two youngsters are parted again, to be repaired in April. They are put on the widowhood system after sitting their eggs for about five days and are given two 20 mile training tosses before the first Federation race. The cocks have food in front of them all the time, being fed in the nest box pots and are never broke down at any time during the racing season. The short inland races are used to get the race team fit and they are given about three or four weeks off before the main 500 mile events. The widowhood hens are given to the cocks at 5 o'clock on the evening before marking for the 500 mile race and tobacco stalks are thrown on the loft floor. Mark told me that "Night Flight" had built a massive nest before he went off to the marking station for the Grand National. The very smart 74ft. loft has seven sections, all housing widowhood cocks and is built to Geoff Cooper's design. In fact, Geoff came up from his West Country home to help erect it. This wonderful structure is 3ft. off the ground, has a pantiled roof and a slatted floor, and the birds are trapped through open doors and into "super" traps. The widowhood hens are housed in an open flights on the back of the main racing loft and I must say how well they looked, being out in the fresh air and weather. The main loft is cleaned out every day and the flights once a month. Mark's 25 pairs of stock birds are housed in three converted stables and are paired up the same time as the racers, so their eggs can be floated in the race loft. The main families in the stock sections are Eric Cannon and Bernard De Weerdt. The stock loft house ten direct Eric Cannon pigeons, all obtained at Eric's dispersal sales and 30 direct from the Belgium ace, Bernard De Weerdt. When bringing in a new stock bird, Mark maintains it has to be out of the very best National winning lines. He has no special type, but likes a smaller pigeon in the hand.

He had 150 young birds, when I visited the loft in 2003 and all of them were put on the darkness system. They are given about eight training tosses before the first race, but once they start racing they are not trained any more and are raced through the full programme to the Young Bird National. The youngsters are housed in a big two section loft, with a wire flight on the front. The two sexes are kept apart all week during the racing season, being allowed to run together on the afternoon of race marking. This is a semi-widowhood system, with the young birds running together for a few hours after clocking.

I would like to finish this week's article by congratulating Mark and Geoff Gilbert on yet another great performance in the 2005 season: 1 st . open British International Championship Club Pau. A wonderful performance! I can be contacted on Telephone: 01372 463480. See yer!


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