The UK Pau Masters race was open to all members of the National Flying Club, British Barcelona Club and the Central Southern Class Flying Club with a combined entry of 2700 pigeons, which were convoyed by the National Flying Club in a custom built transporter with every consideration given to the best welfare of the birds. The shipping crates allow access to food and water on three sides, with the trailer body insulated in order to withstand high temperatures and a ventilation system giving complete control of the environment for the birds, which were liberated on the 31st of July at 06.15 hrs in a light South West wind. There were variable winds on route but mainly south so although the forecast was for much higher temperatures later in the day, it was felt that the southerly winds would assist the birds taking part. Mr Ian Evans, Chief Executive of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association and the RPRA Development Officer, Mr Richard Chambers decided to award £1000 to the race, split equally over three distance zones, with the title of “Pau Masters” being awarded to the joint overall winner. Section A was for the fastest pigeon flying 600 miles and under, Section B 601 to 700 miles and Section C, over 701 miles. This combined race initiative is hoped to be the first of many, with more organisations taking part and to include a middle distance race in the future. Recording a winning velocity of 1144 yard per minute, Mark Gilbert is now the undisputed holder of this title, as his recent record breaking performances at marathon races has been nothing short of outstanding and now he can add the National Flying Club Pau Grand National to add to his list of achievements, along with the added bonus of RPRA UK Masters winner of the joint liberation of three major clubs.
Masters Champion and Winner of Section A:
Mark Gilbert – Windsor – GB19B06292 – “Southfield King”
The winner of Section A and overall winner of the race is Mark Gilbert from Windsor. Mark sent a strong team of 50 yearlings each of which has impeccable breeding for the marathon races. He has been building a team of long distance birds for several years with the main goal of winning the Barcelona International in which several European countries take part, and winning the most prestigious long distance race in the UK is testament to his progress.
Flying a distance of 562 miles Mark clocked one of only two birds in the race which reached their lofts on the day of liberation and on one of the hottest days of the year his pigeon flew for 14 hours 25 minutes, reaching home in the fading light of day.
In his quest for the best marathon bloodlines in Europe Mark had asked a friend in Holland to try to acquire young birds from a fancier called Cees Van Heartem in Terborg, who he had noticed had been putting up some very good Barcelona performances, but a mistake in translation had resulted in the wrong pigeons being ordered. He was then presented with a dilemma and as his agent had taken delivery of the two youngsters, he decided to accept them where they were put into the breeding loft and paired together. Just two youngsters were bred from them and his winning bird “Southfield King” the Pau Grand National winner is one of those youngsters. On the same day as the UK Pau Masters the 2020 Barcelona race also took place and Mark also won the UK National Barcelona as well as the NFC Grand National from Pau with “Southfield King” and “Southfield Gold Lady”, there is only one dream left for him now and he has the bloodlines to make his dreams come true.
Winner of Section B:
Steve Cooper – Sheffield – GB16P05828
First in the 601-700 mile category of the RPRA UK Masters and 3rd Sect K 14th Open National Flying Club Pau Grand National is Stephen Cooper who races his pigeons to a small back garden loft in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, overlooking the Gleadless Valley. He has been an active member of his local clubs and is well known for his willingness to help out and take on administration roles where required. He has had many successes over the years at all distances although his main passion is the marathon races and is always looking out for long distance bloodlines to augment his breeding loft. “You can have the best loft, feed the best food and put all your time into the pigeons but if you do not have the birds bred for the job, it’s a waste of time” he said.
His first pigeon home from Pau was a four year old blue pied hen bred from some of the very best long distance bloodlines. Her sire was bred by Dave Impett of Blackpool a legend of long distance pigeon racing in the north west of England, with Jan Aarden based pigeons from Brugemann Brothers in Holland. David had put up some fantastic performances over the years in Section L of the NFC up to 740 miles so he had arranged a to visit him during the BHW Show of the Year weekend, which resulted in an order for 6 late bred young birds out of his very best. They were duly delivered and as they matured, turned out to be five cocks and one hen, which was not too much of a disappointment because Steve had other long distance bloodlines to put them to. He had put the D. Impett cock to another top bred marathon hen bred by John Highley of Pennine Heights fame, who Steve had asked to be the guest speaker at a local moot. John had put up a young bird for sale to raise money for the club funds which was out of his Luc Van Coppenolle of Ouwegem stock and as Luc had won the title of 3rd National Ace pigeon long distance KBDB with “Sproete Favo” which is a full brother of the 1st International Narbonne 2013, Steve bought it and one other from John. The bloodlines of these pigeons include excellent marathon pigeons, “Favoriet” 1st International Ace Pigeon long distance IFC 4000, “Beziers” four times in the top 100 of the National results and “As Roger” 9th National Ace pigeon long distance KBDB, as well as the renowned “Pau Pair” they were certainly bred for the job.
His second pigeon timed from Pau had the same David Impett sire with the dam being from Wout van Nederpelt’s top stock cock “Chad”, which was 31st National Marseille when paired to a daughter off his top racer “Messi” 1st St Vincent, 4th Cahors, 9th Bordeaux, 17th Mont de Mars all in Open National racing, when “Messi” was paired to his own daughter. Inbreeding at its very best, which is a common practice amongst marathon lofts, who then exchange birds for the hybrid vigour two inbred lines give to each other. It was on a visit to Kassel with John Wheatcroft that a diversion was made to Wout. John had to choose two hens out of a basket and asked Steve to hold one whilst he looked through the rest, when it came to putting it back, Steve didn’t want to let go of it, so a price was agreed and the hen came home to Sheffield. He later asked Wout to make a special pairing for him and added those inbred youngsters to his stock loft too.
Steve entered 14 birds for Pau and actually sent 12, most of them are two year old latebreds and as yearlings they were raced right through to Poitiers, a distance of 485 miles. “They are bred for the job so they should be fine” he said, and will often breed a round of late youngsters because as he pointed out, our autumn weather has been very good over the last couple of years and he can train them right up until Christmas. He races a roundabout system that has “evolved” with the cocks sitting in their nest box section with the hens in an aviary all day. He said he had received some great advice regarding racing the hens from Geoff Kirkland, so half an hour before basketing the hens are let into the cocks to play around. All that are fit are sent with a three week rest before the NFC Grand National although they are not repaired just trained to keep them fit. Fats are increased in the feed five days before the long races and five feeds before the middle distance races on top of a basic widowhood mixture. He said he listened to Mark Gilbert regarding feeding and took his advice, having been to a moot when Mark was on the panel and also visited him when at Epsom Show. The race birds are normally paired around March and sometimes rear a round of youngsters if he wants a couple off a proven pair but not usually. With some being latebreds they do not want to pair up until later anyway, “so it’s a bit hit and miss” he said.
Stephen is a retired from his retail and wholesale business and spends most of his time with his pigeons although he admits he is not precise enough for Federation races and likes the long distance channel races which is more relaxed “sprint racing is a science, channel racing is an art and there is a little more wiggle room”
His constant companion is his little dog “Tess” a Norfolk Terrier cross which is constantly on the move. He had not been of the best of health although he is getting much better now, he is thrilled to have won his category, his 14th Open position in the NFC Grand National at 695 miles.
Winner of Section C:
Nick Adshead – Selby – GB18N56578
Nicholas Adshead from Selby won the RPRA UK Masters Over 700 mile category with a two year old little blue hen bred from bloodlines acquired via his friend Tonnie Kaspers in Holland. He met Tonnie Kaspers after buying two late bred youngsters from him in an internet auction and the subsequent loft visit confirmed that he raced the marathon races with birds of Jelle Jellema bloodlines. He then ordered two more young hens out of Tonnie Kaspers best birds, which were delivered the following year to the Houten Spring Show in 2018. “Tonnie is a wise old Fox I can chat with” he said “I like to buy from a small back garden loft and a working man” They were bred down from a pair of Jellema pigeons called “Jack” and “Tara” which Nick knew were two great racers and it was one of the two hens which bred his little blue hen which went on to win 4th Open 1st Sect K National Flying Club putting in a fantastic performance over 700 miles, also winning the RPRA UK Masters Over 700 mile Category. Now called “Hermia Solus” she was bred late in 2018 and not raced in the year of her birth. In 2019 she went to three NFC races as a yearling, this season 2020 she had raced in the local club and been to one other NFC race before going to the National Flying Club Pau Grand National raced in conjunction with the Central Southern Classic Flying Club and the British Barcelona Club.
He races a team of widowhood cocks plus a separate team of hens which are paired to stock birds for racing. For the Pau race, he felt the hens were in slightly better condition, as the cocks had been to every NFC race which may have taken a little too much out of them. The hens had only been to the local club races, one NFC race and were also privately trained with the young birds. The cocks were repaired to stock hens, given a little straw and left to build a nest for a couple of days before shipping to Pau, and his hens were paired to the stock cocks in time for them to be sitting 12 days. An hour before he went off to the Sheffield marking station, he went into the hens loft to put them on the floor for a while in order to keep them clean in the basket when he noticed his little blue hen was not on the nest. He searched the small section on his hands and knees, beginning to wonder if the hawks had taken her or something before finding her still in the young bird section from the night before. To keep her happy he put her back on her eggs for an hour before leaving, which may have given her that little extra motivation required for the very hard day, although as he pointed out, it was unplanned and the winning pigeon of Mark Gilberts was small plus Jelle Jellama also won 1st Dutch National 2nd International from Barcelona with a small pigeon “so it may have been the right conditions for the smaller pigeons that day” he said.
Nick has enjoyed a tremendous amount of success in the sprint to middle distances over the years and had built a fantastic team of Peter Van De Merwe pigeons which went on to do extremely well in Section K of the National Flying Club. He recalled that at one time he had a team of twelve widowhood cocks, four of which were sect K winners and the others had won 2nd, 3rd, 4th section etc. But the challenge of the longer races came along, and with the goal of winning the very strong section K from the NFC Tarbes Grand National, he decided to sell all his middle distance birds and began his research for some of the best long distance bloodlines available. He acquired sons and daughters of “Brive 1”, “The Toon”, “Rode Marathon”, “Milos” and “Paul” out of which he bred some outstanding pigeons such as “Patience” which in 2014 won 1st North East 700 mile Club, 2nd section K National Flying Club Tarbes as a yearling flying 730 miles, plus being the longest flying bird on winning day and in the very next race from Saintes, he timed “Milly” winning 1st north east 700 mile club 2nd section K National Flying Club Saintes flying 555 miles as a yearling. Both outstanding performances which have quickly become the benchmark his birds have set. “Milly” went on to win a certificate of merit in the NFC as her record shows that in 2014 from Saintes 555 miles she was 2nd Sect K 57th Open NFC out of 3187b, in 2015 from Tarbes Grand National 730 miles she was 1st Sect K 16th Open NFC against 2587b, in 2016 again from Tarbes Grand National she came 3rd Sect K 9th Open NFC 2182b and in 2017 from Tarbes Grand National she was 7th Sect K 111th Open 2689b. A truly outstanding hen of Friedhelm Menne & Daughters bloodlines.
He has never been afraid of spending the money to buy the birds he wants “I would sell a round of youngsters and have what I wanted” he said. But he recounted one time when he was nearing the end of an auction on the PIPA website, bidding on a pigeon in which he had bid up to £4000 and he thought “Nick what are you doing” so he stopped bidding and bought his son his first car instead “which gave me more joy than the pigeon could” he said, which is an important point well made. He plans to put “Hermia Solus” to stock now, having retained youngsters from “Milly” and “Patience” to build a team to include Barcelona International in his future seasons “some of my birds came home so fresh from Pau” he said “I don’t think Pau was far enough for them and they can give me more”. With these three outstanding hens along with many other proven stock birds he has around him, the years spent building a Marathon team are paying dividends and although there have been major setbacks and disappointments along the way, he has stuck to the task, akin to his birds on difficult days. “Hermia Solus” is named after the Shakespeare the character “Hermia” in the play “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Solus” because she flew a further 164 miles on her own and won section K over four and a half hours clear of the second section bird. Although it was no surprise to some that he had clocked early the next day, the NFC secretary did call him back to check his verification was correct, as whole sections in front of him had yet to time in, and Sid Barkel was one of the first to congratulate him.
When we were talking about how he motivated his birds for the marathon races, he pointed out that they needed to be healthy, fit and happy before motivation could make any difference to their performance, in fact without those in place he felt that motivation was pointless. He said that playing around with the birds is all part of pigeon racing although it can sometimes go against you and he recounted that when he was preparing “Millie” for NFC Tarbes one year. She was sitting overdue eggs, so he decided to put a newly hatched youngster under her, which she accepted quite happily. But when he arrived at the marking station, she had been throwing up milk in the basket which he felt affected her performance, a point he was making when recounting with Friedhelm Menne on his next visit. Friedhelm laughed and his daughter translated that her father had said “if he had given her a bigger youngster instead, she would have won it”. He will regularly time many birds to feature high up in the open result from the marathon races, by obtaining the birds bred for generations to do the distance and keeping to this simple philosophy, health, fitness, happy at home before being well motivated.
It is to this end that he keeps to the basics and when I asked about his system, he said that he puts a little disinfectant in the water every day, makes sure they have clean bowls and a hopper full of food in front of them. Although he does feel that with hopper feeding it can be difficult to know if they have had enough food, so this season with the Covid 19 restrictions he has been working from home, which has enabled him to visit the loft up to four times per day feeding little and often, using Redband, Koopman “All in One Mix” and granules. He sends droppings to the vet twice per year, acting on their advice if anything is needed and he does not normally use supplements although he had given “Joost Mix” from BelgaVet this season for the first time and after a couple of days it was like it had snowed in the loft. Nick said that he once asked Peter Van der Merwe for his system who said “yes you can have it but the best system is to keep it simple for both you and your pigeons” and it was great advice.
As a child Nick grew up with pigeons in the family, his father had kept them along with other small animals and win or lose, his Dad would enjoy seeing the pigeons coming home from a race and as long as they were online, he was happy. His husbandry skills made the greatest impression on Nick as it did not matter if it was a Pigeon, Rabbit, Guinea Pig or anything else, he would ensure they were happy, and they thrived which is an ethos Nick has taken into his own management of his birds. As a boy Nick began with his own loft of 6 widowhood cocks and had his successes in the Cannock area where they lived but when he began work, he had leave home and go to London where pigeon racing was not possible at the time, although he would still go to the Blackpool Show picking up his Dad on the way. After a few years his company required him to work out of Manchester, they asked him to relocate and he found a cottage in Wilmslow. One day whilst visiting his parents in Cannock, his Dad asked him to take some strays back to Manchester with him and liberate them there. Not thinking, Nick let them go on a Saturday afternoon which brought on the wrath of Fred Smith, a fancier living nearby who was racing that day. Nick apologised as he was unaware of his loft being there, and a friendship was struck up. He was asked to look after Fred’s pigeons for a week whilst he was on holiday and before Fred had come back, Nick had converted his garage to a loft. He fitted it out with perches and had collected 30 young birds from his Dad to race. But it was not long before another work move to Leeds was required before finally settling in Selby where he has raced for the last 20 years. He still has a second hand “Denny” loft which he bought over thirty years ago when his late mother saw it advertised in the local paper with all fixtures and fittings for £50. “Call them and tell them I’ll have it” he said, and It turned out to be a loft he had seen from the top window of the bus when he was going to school. “I used to wish I could have a loft like that when I was a boy and I have done some serious winning to it and no matter how old it is, if the birds are happy, leave well alone”
We are hoping that this will be the first of many more races of this kind moving into 2021. The RPRA is keen to encourage a more co-ordinated approach to channel racing. This approach is also being used as a base to promote the sport to a wider audience outside of the the sport of pigeon racing, and is part of the Development Officer’s project that is currently being led by Richard Chambers.
If your organisation would like to get involved in future races please contact Richard at