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L Oft Report Andy Smith 05-01-18

Sshh, don’t tell everyone Andy Smith, a very well kept secret.

Tucked away in a small village called Little Harrowden in rural Northamptonshire is a racing loft that has been steadily carving out a name for itself at national level, competing in the NFC, MNFC and BICC with consistent success. The man responsible for this success is  a gentleman called Andy Smith, and a dozen or so years ago he had a bit of a word with himself after years of flying happily at club and federation level with the odd occasion when he would dip his toe in to national racing. The outcome of this little chat was a decision to refocus his energies and compete more regularly at national level. To this end, Andy set about getting the proper tools for the task ahead and his search led him to the West Country lofts of Matt Rakes who was causing a bit of trouble at the time with his Steven Van  Bremen birds. Andy liked what he saw, liked the man racing them and decided these were the birds for him. The birds quickly settled in to the lofts at Little Harrowden and pretty much straightaway started to stand up and get noticed. Alongside these new introductions Andy also got his hands on a couple of handy Busschaerts from the old War Horse himself, Alf Jones of Northampton. Now, anyone who knows the Busschaerts will quickly realise that Alf had the absolute cream of this family that could be traced back to some of the original imports from the early 1970’s, so when Alf sorted a few of these out for Andy they would be steeped in the best. One of these Busschaerts in particular clicked with the Rakes birds and this was the star of a successful strand of performance birds who were confidently competing at the very front in national racing, going toe to toe with long established national lofts right through to the 500 mile national and classic race points.

To illustrate the versatility and ability that the birds housed in Andy’s loft possess consider that since taking the leap of faith the loft has notched up 17x 1st at section level in the NFC, BICC and MNFC. In amongst all these wins there has also been 1st Yearling National with the BICC, 1st Hens and 3rd open overall from Saintes with the MNFC and an ‘oh so close’ 2nd Open MNFC Bordeaux 2016, when only 2 birds were clocked on the night. It is worth considering that during 2016 a bout of serious ill health kept Andy out of the loft from April until late June. In fact, the effects of the illness were so debilitating that Andy couldn’t muster the energy to leave the house and go up the garden for week sat a time. It reflects the quality of the birds housed that despite all of this the birds still scored for him at 500+ miles, and we cannot overlook the care given to the birds at this time by Andy’s children and grandchildren.

Team Smith Andy and a few of his helpers!

It should come as no surprise that the birds from these 2 origins have proved a bit handy up to 500 miles. The Van Breeman birds sourced via Matt Rakes have at their base the old Desmet - Matthijs birds that are renowned for their all round abilities. Alongside this we have the Bertie Bassett bloodlines of the old Busschaerts that allow them to dig deep on race days regardless of wind, weather conditions or distance. Of course, you need to have the best of these for it to work. Considering that Andy has amongst his team a cock who has topped the Section in each of the 3 national clubs he races in ( and all by 3 years old), you could say his family are a handy bunch of all rounders.

So, having let the fact that the loft has won 17 x1st Sections in all 3 national clubs from a variety of race points sink in consider also that to turn over this rate of wins requires a greater level of skill than luck. Anyone who competes regularly at the same level as Andy will know from their own experience that the wind and weather conditions on the day determine the outcome of the race, and living in the centre of the country as Andy does greatly reduces the influence and advantage of the wind direction on the day. Furthermore, the loft is a dangerous presence from even the shorter national races so these birds break early and get to the front in style and numbers for Andy’s ETS printout shows that there has often been a cavalry charge to the loft on race day.

There Can be no doubt that these birds area touch of class, but that isn’t always enough to guarantee the success that Andy achieves. What we have here is a team of birds that have gained a place in the loft through regular testing in the basket only the best survive here and these are in the hands of a master of his craft. Andy chooses to compete with the very best and years of sending all along the line has left him with a family he can have every confidence in, and this no doubt helps when you are standing waiting on a Saturday. Alongside the quality in depth of the team, Andy is no slouch when it comes to meeting their needs and keeping them fit and healthy. He has become self taught in pigeon health through listening on many occasions rather than talking and he applies what he has learnt throughout the year to keep the team health. I think another aspect of his success and one that I don’t think Andy himself gives much thought to is that he was for many years the convoyer for one of the local federations. This has afforded him the opportunity to observe at close quarters how birds act in the panniers under the pressures of race conditions, he will have noted how and what they like to eat and how readily they take water and rest and I think that this will have given him a better understanding of preparing birds for races that require a few days in the baskets.

Andy holding yet another Section winner.

As is the way with most successful fanciers Andy has an unassuming air about him, and the reluctance to dwell too much on their successes. He has the clear, unobstructed view of where he wants to be in 12 months and sees dwelling on past victories as a luxury. It is this future focused drive that has seen Andy looking to bring in another element to his successful and established family over recent years. He was not happy with his performances out of sticky Bordeaux and Tarbes races and felt that his family fell just short of what was needed for these endurance tests, or as Andy put it himself not enough of them were making the successful step up from being reliable and successful at 500 to being the same at 500+.

To rectify this Andy felt that he needed an additional element to the team that would give him the candidates with the right mettle to push on through at Tarbes and give him options if he wanted to dip his toe in to  a few of the international races that the BICC offered. It should be noted that Andy had already invested in the Paul Kendal blood and purchased pigeons bred by Paul including some Morning Glory blood at a Patrick Brothers auction in Blackpool and the offspring were raced first before being introduced to his own Van Breeman family. This introduction allowed a better performance at the longer distance, but he was getting too few of these birds to Tarbes and Bordeaux due to the demands, dangers and rigours of national channel racing. He realised he needed a few more of the right type for Tarbes racing to increase his chances of having more candidates to choose from. To this end, he stuck his head above the garden fence and had a look around, and in so doing he noticed what Rob Rome was doing in Cheltenham, with results similar to Andy’s in the national races. But Andy noticed that Rob possessed the birds with the nouce and ability to carry on winning beyond the difficult 500 mile mark, especially at Tarbes, and especially with hens. Contact was made, a meeting of two common minds took place and after lengthy conversations Rob selected a number of pairs for Andy to try up in to Northamptonshire and, although it has only been a couple of Years, Andy is very happy with what these Rome birds are producing and feels that he made a wise choice.

The system used by Andy is deceptively simple looking, and on paper it is this everything is raced on Roundabout with the exception of a small team of cocks who rare raced on widowhood. The loft is emptied each week for the 1st few inland federation races and then they are set up for the national races. In between channel races the birds will often get a 60 mile chuck in place of a club race. This continues through to the 400 mile stage and then birds might be repaired for the longer couple of races, or they might not if Andy is happy with how things are.  The birds are on farm beans and barley until pairing up and then rearing is done on a high percentage of farm beans. Birds are then knocked in to shape around the loft before an intensive preseason training programme to blow away the cobwebs.

Andy picking up yet another National Trophy.

Of course, there are instinctive touches being made by Andy here and there as the season progresses. But effectively the system as outlined above is what serves Andy well, and remember this is being applied to a team that has strength and quality in depth and in the hands of a master that makes all the difference. In recent seasons I have had numerous phone calls from fanciers who are looking for up to the minute successful fanciers who are under the radar. I have never had any hesitation in recommending Andy smith and on each occasion the fanciers in question have never heard of him, but have done their homework and bought off him!! . I suppose if you aren’t a self -absorbed Self publicity machine focused on generating sales of your own birds then you will remain under the radar. In my role as Press Officer for the National Flying Club I have encountered a few fanciers like Andy who have strung together a list of results that will make you catch your breath if you saw them listed somewhere. It is testament to Andy that when I asked him to pull together his results he has not included club or federation wins. Nor has he included any section positions other than when he topped the section, I should think that the number of section diplomas must run in to 100+ over the past years. In Andy Smith you have a genuine, naturally talented pigeon man, but more importantly he is a true gentleman and one of the very best kept secrets in national pigeon racing on Britain today. This report is long overdue and I know that Andy will probably blush lightly when he sees this in print, but it is well and truly earned. Andy would like to go on record to thank both Alf Jones and Simon Shearsby who have provided invaluable input and advice He would also like to acknowledge the help and support from the members of Harrowden racing club. Lastly, he would like to thank his good lady Helena who has been a rock to him and given him the encouragement to keep going when things got difficult. One final point, as a fitting tribute to the success that Andy has had with the Van Breeman pigeons, he has actually loaned some back to Steven Van Breeman?enough said really.