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“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.

 

Looking back at London & South East Classic Club winners (Part 20).

 

Geoff Gilbert of Windsor.

 

The London and South East Classic Club sent a record 880 birds to Pau in 1999 and when I left the Sutton marking station with my record convoy I thought, judging by the early weather forecast, that we would be liberating on the proposed day of the 550 mile race, but this wasn't to be. On the proposed day of liberation we awoke to 100% low cloud cover and heavy mist coming off the Pyrenees, with visibility being less than a mile. On the Saturday the weather was much better with blue skies and sunshine, so I liberated at 05.30 hrs into a fresh north-west wind, with no day birds recorded. A hard race it might have been, but our club is all about quality and members clocked over 100 pigeons on the second day, with the early birds being clocked around 07.00hrs.

 

The winning pigeon clocked at o6.49hrs at the loft of Geoff and Mark Gilbert of Windsor. It was their champion widowhood dark chequer cock, ‘The Narrow Cock’. This pigeon was a champion in the true sense of the word having won counties prizes in Classic and National events including 10th open Pau NFC on the day in 1998, 139th open Pau NFC, 340th open St Malo Young Bird National, 115th open Bordeaux BBC, 191st open Nantes BBC, 40th open Bordeaux L & SECC runner-up ‘Best Average’ Nantes and Pau in 1998 and 1st open Pau L&SECC. A fantastic pigeon! On the build-up to his Pau Classic win, the Narrow Cock, had three training tosses, three sprint races, two Nantes races and cast his first flight the day of marking for Pau. Geoff told me he called him, ‘The Narrow Cock’, because he had no body in the hand, but had a big heart. He had the very best long distance bloodlines in him, being bred from Geoff Cooper and Ian Benstead pigeons.

 

Geoff had been in the sport for 50 years and said Geoff Cooper had been a great friend and advisor to him for many years. The Gilbert's followed the Geoff Cooper widowhood and feeding method and he even designed their 30ft. Petron loft for them. The tiled roof loft had three sections, two for widowhood cocks and one for young birds and trapping was through sputniks and open doors. The partners never keep more than six cocks in each section and their whole system was geared to long distance racing. Geoff maintained he had always liked racing over the Channel, but only got it right in that last 10 years and used the club sprint races for training. The Gilbert's paired up the first week in February and the cocks reared a pair of youngsters before going on the widowhood system, on their second round of eggs. They normally got three training tosses, three sprint races and then got Classic and National racing, being rarely raced in Federation Channel events. They were fed on the Geoff Cooper mixture and were never broken down. The hen was shown on marking night and was given to the cock for a short time on his return from the race and the racers were never trained in the racing season.

 

Mark Gilbert of Winkfield.

 

In recent years Mark Gilbert has won just about every major accolade at National level and of course his biggest triumph was winning the Dax International in 2004. He had been a leading force in the L&SECC for many years, winning 1st open twice, including the longest old bird race from Bergerac in 2006. It was one of the hardest Bergerac races of all time and the Gilbert loft won it in great style recording 1st and 2nd open on a velocity just touching 900 ypm. In 2004 the L&SECC sent 1366 birds to Guernsey for the final young bird race of the season and Mark won it with his good darkness Soontjen blue chequer hen, ‘Abigail’. Mark won the L&SECC Guernsey Classic in 2004 and recorded a brilliant season’s double, having won the NFC Pau / Saintes Grand National in the July. ‘Abigail’ had flown the English Channel three times that season, recording 3rd open UBI Combine Guernsey, well up in the NFC Falaise result and 1st open L&SECC Guernsey. A brilliant hen! She was raced on Mark’s semi-widowhood system and on handling her the day after her Classic win I noticed she had cast her third flight. ‘Abigail’ was bred from two Soontjen stock birds and her dam had bred several Federation winners.

 

I have known Mark Gilbert for quite a few years now and his fantastic success with his pigeons has never changed him, he is still the nice modest bloke he’s always been! He’s from a brilliant pigeon racing family, with his father being Geoff Gilbert of Windsor, who won 1st open L&SECC Pau in 1999, with his brilliant long distance champion, ‘The Narrow cock’. At the age of eleven 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 1st open SMT 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!

 

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 1st and 2nd 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 2nd 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 Van Elsacker 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 was 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” had plenty of previous good racing form, winning; 2003: 4th open L&SECC Tours, 21st open BICC Falaise; 2004: 16th open L&SECC La Ferte Bernard and a blue pied sister to him had won 15 times 1st 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 hear 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 45 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! On my return from holiday I was given the great news that one of the sport’s gentlemen, Mark Gilbert, had won the National, with a banger of a blue cock bred from a hen he had purchased at Eric Cannon’s dispersal sale after his death in 2000. As NFC press officer at that time, on 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 ypm. This game blue cock was paired up on 1st December, being parted after rearing a pair of youngsters. He was repaired on 1st 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&SECC, when he recoded 71st open. Prior to the 2003 season had been only lightly raced, having three races as a young bird and three races as a yearling. Champion “Night Flight” was bred out of a direct Bernard De Weerdt red chequer cock and he was a full brother to the Belgium Champion’s 4th open Dax International winner. The Grand National winner’s dam, a blue hen, was a direct daughter of Eric Cannon’s Champion “Culmer Bess”, when mated to the “77” stock cock, who was a half-brother to Champion “Culmer Channel Queen”, being bred out of “Culmer Producer”. Champion “Culmer Bess” was Eric’s fourth NFC Pau Merit Award winner, recording; 6th, 26th,170th open Pau, 47th open Saintes / Pau and was the highest priced pigeon at Eric’s dispersal sales, being sold for £2,300.

 

At that time Mark had 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 was only really interested in races over 500 miles and raced 90 cocks on the widowhood system. Mark and Geoff are great friends with Geoff and Catherine Cooper of Peasedown and the Winkfield loft was managed on the Cooper’s methods. Mark mixed his own Geoff Cooper long distance corn mixture, which was made up of three parts maize, one part wheat, one part Red Band and nearly two parts protein. The racers were paired up in December and after rearing two youngsters were parted again, to be repaired in April. They were put on the widowhood system after sitting their eggs for about five days and were given two 20 mile training tosses before the first Federation race. The cocks had food in front of them all the time, being fed in the nest box pots and were never broke down at any time during the racing season. The short inland races were used to get the race team fit and they were given about three or four weeks off before the main 500 mile events. The widowhood hens were given to the cocks at 17.00hrs on the evening before marking for the 500 mile race and tobacco stalks were 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 had seven sections, all housing widowhood cocks and was built to Geoff Cooper’s design. In fact, Geoff came up from his West Country home to help erect it. This wonderful structure was 3feet off the ground, had a pan tiled roof and a slatted floor, and the birds were trapped through open doors and into “super” traps. The widowhood hens were housed in an open flight 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 was cleaned out every day and the flights once a month. Mark’s 25 pairs of stock birds were housed in three converted stables and were 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 were at that time, Eric Cannon and Bernard De Weerdt. The stock loft housed 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 had to be out of the very best National winning lines. He had no special type, but liked 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 were given about eight training tosses before the first race, but once they start racing they were not trained anymore and were raced through the full programme to the Young Bird National. The youngsters were housed in a big two section loft, with a wire flight on the front. The two sexes were kept apart all week during the racing season, being allowed to run together on the afternoon of race marking. This was a semi-widowhood system, with the young birds running together for a few hours after clocking.

 

Geoff and Mark Gilbert, two legends of long distance pigeon race in the UK. Two wonderful pigeon racers! I can be contacted on telephone number: 01372 463480 or email me on: keithmott1@virginmedia.com

 

TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com).