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Press release / Fancy a real flutter? Why pigeon racing beats horsepower

Press release issued on behalf of the UK sport of pigeon racing

The financial hurdles of breeding your own racehorse are more daunting than tackling Becher’s Brook on a donkey. A look to the skies at Aintree this weekend, could bring another thoroughbred into view:   one of the feathered variety. These promise all the excitement and prize money of the gee-gees, but with none of the monetary handicaps. Pigeon racing is back and giving the nags a run for their money.

Pedigree pigeons can fly further and at faster, more impressive speeds than racehorses.

They’re much cheaper to keep than horses too and could take part in big prize one loft races with jackpots as high as £30,000.  Cars and holidays also feature as regular tax-free prizes.

Winning racing pigeons can auction for thousands. In February, the world’s most expensive pigeon sold for $328,000 (£207,132), to a Chinese shipping magnate.

However, for the 40,000 pigeon enthusiasts in the UK (known as fanciers), these selling points are not the sport’s main appeal.

“There’s such an excitement and strong social element to pigeon racing – that’s the main appeal for any fancier” explained Lee Fribbins, editor of weekly magazine The Racing Pigeon.

He says that the majority of pigeon fanciers do not enter their birds into these larger races, preferring the excitement of smaller club competitions.

“When you start racing, letting your pigeon go for the first time is a major event. The excitement of seeing them fly back never leaves you.”

For the sport’s enthusiasts the start of this year’s racing season is the chance to get more people involved. Its loyal enthusiasts say pigeon racing is long overdue a resurgence in the popularity stakes.

Jack Duckworth might be the first person who comes to mind when pigeon racing is mentioned, but it is the Queen who is a fan and patron of the sport. One hundred birds have a royal residence at the Sandringham lofts.

“Pigeon racing beats horse racing in the affordability, jackpot, thrills and heritage stakes. It’s the full package in sporting entertainment, particularly in the current economic climate” added Lee.

The heritage of pigeon racing can be traced back to 220 AD.

Like horse racing, form is involved. Lee entered his first race of the season last weekend and his bird won, but it was a close call.

“It scraped the wind. The weather conditions weren’t favourable.

“It’s all trial and error, but just an incredible buzz when it all works. We know more about how pigeons navigate now, but there’s still a real sense of wonder on how they make their journey back.”

Racing pigeons use natural and manmade landmarks – even roundabouts – to find their way home.

To get the most from a racing pigeon requires the level of dedication found in greyhound and horse racing.

Their diets are carefully balanced – comprising special high protein feeds for breeding and carbohydrate energy feeds and vitamin supplements for racing.

Athletes of the sky is a common phrase among The Fancy (pigeon fancier collective) – and justified when the complexity of pigeon racing is explained: it’s a serious combination of discipline, skill and patience.

Racing birds can cover vast distances at an average speed of 50mph, or 70-80mph if there’s a tailwind. The fittest birds fly up to 700 miles in marathon races, according to Lee.

Between April and September there are weekly pigeon club races around the UK.

The thrill of pigeon racing means that it’s very often a lifelong obsession.

Lee was just six years old when his grand father gave him half a dozen pigeons for his birthday. He now keeps 70 pigeons – 30 race birds, 30 young birds born this year which will race for the first time in July and 5 pairs of pigeons for breeding.

A pigeon’s racing career generally spans three or four years.

Lee added:

“We would encourage anyone interested in the sport to visit their local pigeon racing club, to get involved and find out just what the sport entails. There are fanciers in every town in the country.

“The cost to enter the sport is relatively low, but the gains can be significant. My first loft was a coal bunker in my parents back garden with a little window I could let them in and out from. If a pigeon feel safe and happy they will literally home to a rabbit hutch.”

It costs roughly 10p a day to keep a pigeon healthy. The start up cost to get a pigeon loft, birds and underway with club racing is about £300.

For those who are more interested in the big cash prize events and not so much the pigeon owning side, a quick ‘one loft pigeon races’ search online will yield lists of options.

“At this time of year, entries open for summer one loft races. Some fanciers donate pigeons for non fanciers to enter into races – and their progress can be tracked online.

“You can visit your birds and watch the final race online or live at the venue.”

Getting into pigeon racing is simple and easy explains Lee. “We could in most cases find local fanciers to give a new starter a few young pigeons to get going. Help is always at hand and a little guidance will get you underway in pigeon keeping.

“It’s a great thing to get into” he enthuses. “Most fanciers are more than happy to see new faces and help others learn more about the sport.

The UK pigeon racing season runs from April to September. For help on getting started, call the Royal Pigeon Racing Association on 01452 713529 or find out more at rpra.org

Pigeon racing facts:
1. The Queen is the sport’s patron
2. Racing pigeons cost about 10p a day to look after and can win £10,000-£30,000 in jackpot races
3. Racing pigeons can fly much further and faster than racehorses
4. The most expensive racing pigeon sold for $328,000 earlier this year
5. There are 40,000 pigeon racing enthusiasts in the UK