“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
A Three Borders Federation Special Feature.
Steve Appleby of Ash.
I was highly delighted when I received my Three Borders Federation result for the Kingsdown race and saw my good friends, Steve & Annett Appleby, had won 1st and 2nd in the Guildford club and 1st, 7th Federation. Steve is great worker for the sport and it is always great to see one of the workers win something good at the top level! Steve and Annett sent six pigeons to Kingsdown and clocked five birds in eight minutes. The partners won the Federation with their yearling blue hen, ‘Blue Diamond’ and she was raced on the celebrate system, to be 52ymp in front of the next pigeon in the Guildford club. She was very consistent racing as a young bird and was bred from Dave Waterhouse stock birds. One minute after clocking ‘Blue Diamond’ from Kingsdown, Steve got his good yearling blue pied cock, ‘Sky Master’ and he recorded 2nd club, 7th Federation. He was bred from a Dave Waterhouse hen and a gift Gaby Vandenbeele cock from Steve’s pigeon fancier neighbour, Russell Ayres. This game cock also won 1st club, 12th Three Borders Federation Blandford as a young bird in 2017. Steve told me, ‘it is good competition between Russell and me on race days, with our lofts being sited almost next to each other and both of us racing in the Guildford club’. Steve and Annett are enjoying a very good 2018 racing season and another outstanding pigeon for them has been their two year old Dave Waterman blue cock, ‘Blue Arrow’ and he recorded: 2nd club, 12th Three Borders Federation Falaise this season.
I first met Steve Appleby about twenty five years ago, when I first started convoying for the London & South East Classic Club and he was my race advisor. In that time we had some great fun working together, producing some good racing for the Classic and have become very good friends. Steve has a sound knowledge how forecasts work as he has studied meteorology for over 30 years. Stevie is the best race advisor in the sport and in recent years has taken the job to new higher level of excellence. I ask you, where would race advisory be in this country with out Steve Appleby? He has the best technology available and is 100% dedicated to producing the very best racing for the fanciers every Saturday, whether it be Federation or Classic. Steve is now race adviser for the British International Championship Club and works with the ‘race controllers’ team of club president, John Tyerman and committee member, Mark Gilbert.
Steve only races a small team of 15 pigeons as he says the less pigeons you have the more you know about them. Steve’s recent Bergerac winner was a yearling blue cock now named ‘Sky Wonder’ and he was a nice handling pigeon, complimented with quality feathering. He was sent as a single entry to the Bergerac race winning the Guildford club and chalking up 22nd Three Borders Federation with 584 birds competing. This was typical for the Appleby loft, send one pigeon and win the race! As a young bird ‘Sky Wonder’ was consistent always back to the loft within half an hour of the early pigeons and the year he won the longest race from Bergerac he was raced on the widowhood system, and was prepared for the race by sending him to Kingsdown two weeks prior to the Bergerac race. After liberation from Kingsdown at 07:30hrs he arrived at the loft five hours later at 12:30hrs for a distance of 113 miles clapping round blowing out his crop. Those five hours on the wing were to put him just right for Bergerac a distance of 445 miles to his loft. After that race he was then let out with the young birds every day and flew with them for a full hour not pulling out as most old birds do from a young bird batch. He was sent with the S.M.T. Combine to Bergerac, being liberated at 06:10hrs and timed in at 18:09hrs, recording a velocity of 1090 ypm. He was in excellent condition on his return and appeared to have taken the race in his stride. His full brother was 73rd open in that years L&SECC race from Tours and his half-brother, ‘Sky Supreme’, was 27th open in the same race. The sire of this family of winners was a blue Janssen cock bred from gift pigeons from the late Cyril Luxton of Worplesdon. The dam of the Bergerac winner, ‘Sky Wonder,’ was another Janssen bred for stock from a pair of pigeons obtained from the good fancier Mick Chaplin of Woking.
Steve was born near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk and was the first in his family to keep pigeons, as his father was not a fancier. He has always liked pigeons since he was about 10 years of age and watching local fanciers race them fascinated him. He often sat down at the bottom of his garden which over looked a railway line and watched a local fancier who had a loft on the other side of the track exercising his team. The fancier was called Jim and gave Steve his first pigeons. Steve kept these pigeons in a disused railway carriage at the bottom of his Grandfather's garden. His grandfather was a racing man but was only interested in horse racing. Steve always remembers the oil paintings of famous race horses hanging on his grandfather's living room wall. A friend of Steve's also kept racing pigeons and they used to cycle into the country, and let their pigeons go, to race them home. They were always beaten home by the pigeons. Steve decided to join the Royal Marine Commandos at 18 years old and had to abandon the hobby he liked so much. His other hobby is playing chess and he was a serious chess player representing Plymouth Chess club on a number of occasions whilst serving in the Royal Marines. Obviously whilst in the Marines he was unable to keep pigeons as he was continually going abroad and he decided to become a silent partner when home on leave to learn about the sport with the aim of starting up when he completed his service. He served his apprenticeship with Stan Stout who taught him a great deal about the sport of racing pigeons, most of which holds true today. Stan, who won 2nd open NFC Pau, always said pigeon racing is common sense, but common sense is not so common. After 22 years service Steve left the Royal Marines as a Colour Sergeant and settled down in Guildford, and now his job is a warrant officer with a major utility company. He soon went back to his favourite sport pigeon racing helped by Annette, his wife and daughter, Jennifer. They both take an interest in the sport and when required help out with any jobs when necessary. His first stock came from pigeons that were given to him from different local fanciers and believe it or not the first race he won was from Dax, 520 miles with the Solent Federation when he was a member of the Ash Vale Club. Steve's first loft was a Kidby 12 x6 foot, which looking back was inadequate and far inferior to his present one. His biggest mistake early on was failing to work his birds hard enough, and obviously they were not as fit as they should have been when entered into a race. He also found he had little success trying to breed and race at the same time. When Ash Vale was disbanded Steve raced with the Guildford Club which is his club today. The club is grown in strength and the partnership of the late David May and his wife Christine were ones to beat, as they won the Three Borders Federation three times in the 2005 season. His other club was the London & South East Classic Club, where he was a Life Vice President and committee member. Fifteen years ago Steve and his wife Annett moved from Guildford to Ash and started to race again from his new garden, and his present four section racing loft set up is a 24ft x 8ft, which includes a 2ft corridor and all clocking is on ETS. He told me he considers the most important factors when it comes to loft design is good ventilated, dryness and facing south if possible. His stock birds are housed in a very well ventilated 8ft x 6ft loft in the corner of his very well kept garden.
When Steve started in the sport the natural system was employed but found he was not happy with it as he was not making full use of the hens while waiting for them to lay and start sitting again. Because he only keeps a small team his loft was at a distinct disadvantage not racing hens. He then changed to the roundabout system as both sexes are available to race all the time. This has been a very good decision for him and has given him a fair amount of success. He believes that the cock bird will race home just as hard to his nest box as he does to his hen. The hens will always race back to their cocks. Undoubtedly his best racers have been hens. In recent seasons Steve has raced some birds on the celebrate system, with outstanding success. Steve keeps about 8 pairs of racers which are very manageable, as he finds 16 good pigeons can just about meet his requirements. He says the more pigeons you have the less you know about them and the most old birds he has sent to any old bird race have been about six. The main disadvantage of racing a small team is that sometimes he can't stretch to each race, both in his club and the BICC at the same weekend. Racing a small team he can easily identify any changes in behaviour which can some times be used to his advantage when it comes to motivation. To do well entering just a small team gives him a great sense of achievement and usually he never enters a race unless he can be competitive.
When I asked Steve about the family of pigeons he raced, he said, ‘as you know Keith, I’m a small team man and only keep a few stock pigeons. The strain I keep and race are the Jacob Poortvliet of Holland pigeons and these were obtained from Dave Waterhouse. My good friend, Tony Adams, who is the ‘race controller of the Solent Federation and I purchased some latebreds jointly from Dave, and these are the basis of our lofts today. David Waterhouse is well known for his outstanding performances, having won both the National Flying Club and Central Southern Classic Flying Club, and in the 2018 season won 1st section, 11th open Coutances with the British Barcelona Club. A fantastic pigeon racer! Tony Adams bred 1st open CSCFC Young Birds Classic in the 2016 for Dave Waterhouse as a gesture of good will. I have only been racing the Jacob Poortvliet pigeons for a few seasons, but they are proving to be outstanding’.
Steve's other position within the sport is, as I've previously written, is race advising and he is always watching the skies on his satellite system at weekends. For this reason he has named his family of pigeons mostly with the word “Sky”. To name some of them, “Sky Prince” was 12th open L&SECC Nantes and won the “Booker Gold Cup”, as the first nominated yearling in the race, “Sky King” won 1st SW Section, 5th open L&SECC Vire, velocity 925, in a very hard race. At that time convoyer Doug Went on his return journey described the northerly head winds over the channel of sledge hammer force. “Sky Train” won the Three Borders Federation as a young bird from Blandford. “Sky Girl” a yearling won 3rd section E, 181st open NFC Bordeaux 443 miles, in a north east wind. At that time Tom Sherwood was the man to beat in the NFC and was a tremendous national flyer, winning section E on several occasions. On two different NFC races, one from Nantes and the other from Saintes he was just in front of Steve winning Section E. Steve's best racer was the Busscheart blue chequer hen, “Sky Queen”, never out of the first 20 in all National and Classic races she was entered. Steve told me, she was born with that natural ability to win races. She won from the word go as a young bird and never looked back recording 17th open L&SECC Vire, velocity 885 ypm, 7th open L&SECC Angers in a north east wind, velocity 1049 ypm. This wonderful hen was sent as a single entry to the Saintes National with 5,244 birds competing. The NFC convoy was liberated in a north east wind and after 9 hours 37 minutes on the wing she was spotted racing hard over the rooftops. She folded into the loft, winning 2nd section E, 4th open NFC Saintes, velocity 1158 flying 380 miles.
Before it was sadly disbanded the wonderful old London Columbarian Society was one of the oldest clubs in the pigeon fraternity and reached one hundred years of age. Originally it was formed to create Wednesday racing for London area shop keepers and fanciers who had to work on a Saturday and was probably the first ever mid-week club. This old club had wonderful tradition and quality, and I’m proud to say I was Chairman and Press Officer of it for several seasons in the mid 1970’s. The London Coly had a brilliant array of top quality trophies and cups, and the ‘The Brooker Gold Cup’ was originally presented to the London Columbarium Society by Mr W. Brooker in the early 1900’s. It was a very valuable cup, being solid gold and is now insured for £5,000. When the Coly disbanded the cup was presented to the London & South East Classic Club and was competed for each season in the Yearling Derby, and was won by the first nominated yearling recording the highest velocity. Steve Appleby first won the cup racing on the south road from Nantes 279 miles in 1999 and his game pied cock also recording 12th open. In 2006 the race took place from Morpeth on the north road, a distance of 275 miles and Steve was delighted to win this cup for the second time. ‘The Brooker Gold Cup’ had only been won three times before by the same fancier, Steve, Reg & Richard Maybey and Skeet & Keen, but the Appleby loft was the only one to win this coveted award on the north road and the south road. His Morpeth yearling chequer hen, ‘Sky Crusader’, was three weeks after winning the ‘Gold Cup’ turned round and sent on the south road as a single entry to Cholet, again with the L&SECC, a distance of 289 mile. She was timed after 9 hours and 21 minutes on the wing winning recording 94th open, velocity 947 ypm in a north east wind. She was bred from a cock gifted to Steve from the late Cyril Luxton, a Guildford fancier when he retired from the sport and was paired to a hen on loan from Tony Adams of the Adams and Gilmore partnership of Fareham. Well, I hope my readers have enjoyed this feature on my ol' mate, Steve Appleby; he is a great lad and gives up a lot of his time working for our sport!
Russell Ayres of Ash.
Russell Ayres of Ash enjoyed a good race from Falaise in France, when won the Three Borders Federation by 20 ypm. Both Russell and Steve Appleby race in the Guilford club and live next door to each other, with their lofts being side by side with only the garden fence separating them. Russell told me they have some great friendly pigeon ‘banter’ over the fence on a Saturday afternoon while waiting for the race birds. The week before Russell top the Federation from Falaise, Steve won 1st Three Borders Federation from Kingsdown and I wonder what was said over the fence on those two races! To complete three weeks of brilliant pigeon flying by Guildford club members; Colin Puddicombe recorded 2nd, 3rd Three Borders Federation Kingsdown, the weekend after Russell’s Falaise Federation win. Three great performances by Guildford members! After the race Russell brought his Federation winner up to my home in Claygate to get his photo taken and he came in the company of another premier Guildford fancier, Peter Sharman. Peter has been to my house several times before, being a great pigeon racer and world class Carp angler. It was a great pleasure to meet up with the two lads on the day!
Russell Ayres’ Falaise Federation winner was his good yearling mealy cock, ‘Vale Racket’ and he was sent to the race driving his hen to nest, after being first bird to the loft the previous weekend from Kingsdown. Talking over the garden fence, Russell and Steve estimated the Falaise birds would take just under four hours to get home and Russell told me on his visit to Claygate, ‘I was sitting on deck chair, contemplating making a cup of tea before the birds arrived and on looking due south, I noticed a bird way up high in the sky racing hard. He got above my house and went into a steep dive, and then did a half turn and shot across the ETS pad. I’ve never seen a pigeon drop like that before in my life and wasn’t expecting an arrival in three and a half hours! I had to wait just over half an hour for my second bird, a yearling Jan Aarden, which recorded 2nd club. I really enjoyed that race’. ‘Vale Raket’ is a son of Russell’s good Hollywood Janssen red cock, ‘Treble Free’. This wonderful red cock is getting on in years now, but in his day won three firsts racing and has bred many premier winners including: ‘Vale Raket’ and ‘Ariel’. ‘Treble Free’ is Arron’s favourite pigeon and is full brother to the outstanding racing hen, ‘The 23 Hen’, the winner of: 22nd open L&SECC Guernsey, 23rd open L&SECC Tours, 161st open L&SECC Guernsey, lifting the ‘John O’Connor Trophy’, plus 1st club, 18th Federation Yeovil. Other premier racers in the Ayres loft today are: ‘Ariel’: this mealy hen is sister to ‘Vale Raket’ and won: 2016: 1st section, 9th open BICC Falaise Young Bird National: ‘The Fed Hen’: 1st club, 1st Three Border Federation Yeovil, 1st club, 25th Three Borders Federation Wadebridge, 1st Guildford Breeder / Buyer: ‘Lucky Lad’: 1st club, 4th Federation, 5th Combine Fougeres, 2nd club, 6th Federation, 6th Combine Vire, 3rd club, 10th Federation, 18th Combine Alencon and is the sire of winners.
Russell races his old birds on the roundabout system, because, he maintains he wasted too many good hen when he raced only cocks on the widowhood system, and feeds all ‘Country Wide’ and GEM mixtures, backed up with De Weerd and GEM supplements. The bird’s droppings are tested three times a year and ‘Gemthepax’ is used all the year around. Russell has a young family, with his two sons, Adam aged fifteen, and Aaron aged nearly twelve, so he only has a limited time with his pigeons and only now concentrates on races from over the English Channel. His good lady, Vicki, is a great help with the pigeon management, as Russell works long hours at his job at a firm that manufacture compute printers. His loft is 24ft long with four sections, both stall traps for the young birds and open door trapping for the old birds, an offset pan tile apex roof and the young bird section has a wire flight. The 12 pairs of stock birds are housed in a 7ft x 8ft loft, which also has a wire flight. He breeds 40 youngsters to race on the ‘dark’ system each season and he likes to get them paired up and sitting on eggs for the young bird National and Classic races. The Ayres young bird team are worked hard during the racing season and are given as many 40 mile training tosses as Russell can find time for. He told me he really enjoys young bird racing and his biggest thrill was when he won 4th section E, 4th open NFC Guernsey (6873 birds) in 2002 when he flew in partnership with John Eastwood. They won it with their good blue hen, ‘The National Hen’ and she was bred by Brian Keegan of Sandhurst. This great hen was put in the stock loft to breed some outstanding racers and her dam won 1st open CSCFC Sennon Cove for the Keegan loft in 2001.
Russell was born in Reading and is from a big pigeon racing family, with both his father and grandfather being life time fanciers. His grandfather was Ray Ayres of Thorpe and he was an outstanding pigeon racer, winning on the north and south roads, from 80 miles right through to 500 miles. Russell says pigeon racing is in his blood and his earliest memory was, as a two year old sitting in the loft shaking the corn tin! His father, Ray Ayres, was also a great fancier all his life, before sadly passing away in 1999. Ray raced in Wokingham before moving to Ash Vale in 1975 and flew in partnership with the young Russell. Their first stock birds were Ray Ayres’ Bricoux-Sion, Maurice Veheyes and Janssen Brothers, which all raced really well. The Ayres partnership won their fair share of prizes in the club and Federation, but their best position was 6th section E, 27th open NFC Pau in 1985. Russell has always been a 100% pigeon man, but when he was young he played a lot of Football and was a good Angler, with his best fish being a 20lb 3oz Common Carp. After his dad’s death, Russell entered a very successful partnership with John Eastwood in 1999 and after a short break from the sport started on his own at his new address in Ash, in 2006.
When Russell and his then fiancée, Vicki, mover into their house in Ash their next door neighbour was the pigeon fancier and then L&SECC race advisor, Steve Appleby, and on watching Steve’s birds exercising over the fence, he was bitten by the pigeon bug again. At that time John Eastwood was reducing his stock loft, so Russell obtain three birds from him and all three originally came from Brian Keegan of Sandhurst. The three stock birds have bred winners and are all down from the same lines, out off ‘Hollywood Rafa’, winner of 3rd open CSCFC. Russell told me that Brian and Sharron Keegan have become very good friends over the years and they have let him have the very best of their Janssen based family. His stock loft is based on ‘The Derby Cock’, the old Gust Hofkens pigeons and the Camphuis lines of ‘Red Caesar’ and ‘Red Dancer’. Russell maintains that ‘The Derby Cock’ is the ‘ace’ breeder and is sire and grand sire too many premier prize winners in the National and Classic.
Russell has twelve pairs of stock birds and mates them all up in at the beginning of January. He says a lot of the birds in the stock loft are Janssen based, in fact a lot of the stock birds came through Brian Keegan’s loft and he is always looking to improve his bloodlines. Russell and Brian Keegan visited a great fancier in Belgium named Frans Verheyen and he races the Hofkens strain of pigeons. Frans has been winning 20 plus first prizes ever season for the last 40 years, with the same Hofkens pigeons and has had many Olympiad pigeons. Brian introduced these pigeons into the UK and the fanciers who have raced these birds have won top National and Classic positions with them. Some years ago, Russell purchased two direct from Frans and both of them bred winners at his loft in Ash. Russell has a few Gaby Vandenabeele pigeons obtained from the late, David May and his wife Christine. In recent times the Ayres loft has introduced some Jan Aarden based pigeons for the long distance racing and some De Rauw Sablons for the shorter races from France.
The breeding loft in the Ayres’ garden is not based on the eye sign theory, as Russell is not a believer, but he like his pigeons to have some depth in their eye. He told me an eye sign judge graded two of his Bricoux pigeons back in the late 1980’s and stated the cock would win from up to 500 miles and other, a hen, would be lucky to make it home from 100 miles. In reality the cock was a duffer and the hen went on to win 27th open NFC Pau (550 miles) and bred several winners up to Niort (380 miles). Russell never shows his birds in the winter months and says it is their rest period and should be left in the loft. He maintains the moult period is probably the most important time of the year and if the birds don’t have a good moult the fancier will not get the best from them the following season, breeding or racing. He parts all his birds as soon as the last young bird race is completed and gives them a good quality moult mixture, plenty of rest, with very little exercise around the loft and baths with added salts. He normally produces a couple of pairs of late breds from his best birds for stock purposes, but these are never later than June bred. Russell hates ‘wildman’ pigeons in his loft and says they never last long, because they just up set the other birds. They don’t have to be tame, just under control!
Russell says, his friend Brian Keegan of College Town, Sandhurst is the top fancier in his area and has won it all over many years in the sport including: 1st open NIPA (23,000 birds) and five times 1st open Classic. A great fancier! Russell has no offices in the sport as he can’t attend the local club every weekend, because of his work and most of the time he wants to concentrate on National and Classic racing. He told me he doesn’t understand the anti ETS mob! With his work commitments increasing, he has have to have the trapping system and thinks it is a great invention and the way forward for the sport. He believes the clocking system is better for the pigeons, they will not being grabbed by a big pair of sweaty hand after a hard fly home and not have a rubber ring ripped off their leg and then dropped on the loft floor. He maintains the ETS is no quicker clocking than with a T3 clock and stall trap when used properly.
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www.keithmott.com).