Interview with Mike Ganus and Maurice O’Donnell.

Interview with Mike Ganus and Maurice O’Donnell. Two Legends of One Loft Racing.



With Mark Lyford





Mark: Welcome to Mike Ganus and Maurice O’Donnell. Two masters of One Loft Racing.



Here we are at the Algarve Golden Race. You’ve both got pigeons in the final. Welcome and thank you for the interview both.



A couple of basic questions first. Maurice, we did an interview four years ago. So that was prior to Miss Maurice and all of the legacy she has produced since 2019. So, for those people that don’t know, When did you both first start?



Mike: When did I start? I was probably around 12 years old. My brother had pigeons. He started after my father had pigeons. And my father started after my grandfather had pigeons. So, it’s been in the blood a long time. They, they weren’t as serious as I am. It was more Club racing and things to do back then. And not saying anything bad about them, but their results weren’t too good.



And then I thought, do I want to follow this sport of racing pigeons, or do I want to do something else? But I love animals, I love birds, and, I stuck with the pigeons. I built my first loft was out of four doors. It was just like a little square thing that was four feet by four feet and six and a half feet tall in a field.



I got a few birds from my brother and I put them in there. And I’d go there and feed them with his feed and water them every day. And then I lucked out because my brother’s hormones picked up and he went after women. So the loft was pretty much empty. And one of my best friends in school, his Dad had pigeons and so did he.



So. I picked up some pigeons from him and put them in my brother’s loft and that was the start of it. And I never never left it. I’ve never looked back. My my father was against it. My mom was all for it. So during a period of time there were a few arguments where, you know, Why are you pursuing Mike, which is her son, into the pigeons?



He shouldn’t get into this sport and he should do something else with his life. But I wanted to do it and my mom stuck with me. She’d take me for feed at the feed store about 30 minutes away every two, three weeks. And it’s just it was something I was meant to do, you know, it was meant to happen.



Mark: It was a generational thing, for you to carry on really in a way from what you said, and then now you took it to a whole different level.



Mike: I started racing in my area, it was a lot of Belgian people, and there was like 185 lofts, racing lofts, within a 20 mile area. So when I started it was very difficult, cause here I am young, my mom taking me to the club. Some average pigeons and you know, it just came natural.



I think the second year I raced pigeons, I won three firsts. And that was against 1,500 – 1,700 pigeons. So the old Belgian people, they weren’t too happy. There’s a new kid coming into the racing sport and he’s already beaten me. And it just bloomed from there. You know, it was just meant to be.



Mark: What about yourself, Maurice?



Maurice: It’s something similar. My Dad had pigeons, and he worked in England for a long time. That’s where he met my Mum, and they got married in the UK. And when my oldest brother was born, They came back from the UK and his first loft would have been smaller than Mike’s. It was two old tea chest boxes, if you ever remember them.


And he had two of them pinned up to the back wall of the house. And he used to get birds to fly 480 miles from Scotland and clock them into that. So then, when I became interested, I think I was six, and… In those days, all the house, that were called corporation houses, they were owned by the council. Each one of them, when they were built, there was a coal shed, as they used to call it.



And it would have been, say, eight foot by four, with a door in the front, was to store the coal for the fire. So, I wanted to get more pigeons, so my Dad turned around and we got all the coal out of the shed, and put in some perches in there, and some breeding boxes, and… Got a few extra pigeons and moved them in there, and I think then I was about 12 and I kept on to him that I wanted to build a big loft like the other guys in the club had, which would be say twelve foot long by six foot wide and where he worked they were demolishing a big corn, a grain store and it was four or five stories high, but with timber floors. So he got some of the workers to do was to strip all the timber boards off the floors and he loaded them onto a truck and he drove them over to our house. And that’s how we built the first, what we call loft, was out of these second hand timber boards and great success flying out of it. I think I was the only youngster in the club. They were all grown men.



Mark: So there’s similarities really in both stories.



Maurice: But I’ve been, I was in and out of them a few times with work and that. And then I was running bars and I moved to the UK. So I had to get rid of the birds.



But what I did was give some of my better ones to my late brother, Tommy, Lord have Mercy on him. And he had a loft in his house, so he kept some of my birds and bred off of them and when I came back from the UK I got some of the children back from them and built a loft myself and I’ve been in them since so like I said, it was bred into me. It wasn’t something I picked.



A guy asked me the other night actually, he said you must have been picked on in school and things for having pigeons and I said: “no it was the opposite.” Because I used to bring one or two pigeons down to the school in a box and show them to all the guys.



And there was a lot of them. They were fascinated with them. And I’m still, to this day, I’m friends with those guys on Facebook, and they follow me with the pigeon sport. There’s actually a couple of them after joining syndicates with me to send to the One Loft Races. So, even though they’d never kept pigeons themselves, but they have that interest since we were in school.



I think there’s a difference in Ireland. The birdage is still huge compared to, say, the UK. It’s still, you know, in Dublin, the concentration… Dublin, it’s crazy, yeah. Like, Dublin is a small area. And, in contrast to, to, to say the likes of Kerry or, you know, all these other… But Dublin is so small, but every week, the one federation in Dublin, it’s called the South Road Fed, but every week they’re sending 12,000 – 13,000 pigeons, it’s wicked, big numbers.



And the same, in Northern Ireland, up there they have the biggest one is the NIPA.



And they’ve often sent 25,000 – 28,000 pigeons to a race. Huge! Every second house in Northern Ireland must keep pigeons.



Mark: So, let’s move on to Mike. I mean, to me, you’re, I consider, most would agree, probably the best stud of one loft pigeons anywhere in the world. And when did you start the stud, as you would have called it? When, when did it start? Was that always the plan, and get what you’ve got now?


It’s obvious you took it seriously from the get go, but there’s a difference between racing pigeons to a back garden loft. Right. So was it a light bulb moment, or was it always part of the plan? And what’s the journey been like to get where you’ve got now?



Mike: Okay it really went into effect in 2011.



I went to the South Africa million dollar race and I sent a team of 20 or so. My wife and I went with some friends. It was a beautiful time, South Africa million dollar race, and the day of the race we came out of the hotel after breakfast and we thought, well, let’s head over to the big hall where you can watch the birds come home on the big screens.



As soon as I walked outside, it was so hot and humid. We had to maybe a mile walk toward the big hall. And the first thing I told my wife was we ain’t going to get any prizes. Our birds ain’t capable of doing this because I won everything back home in small one lot races, which there weren’t that


Page 5 of 27 many back then at that time, but in my club or where I raced birds was a different type of pigeon. So as we walked toward the big hall, like I mentioned, I said, we ain’t gonna do any good. And we sat there and watched birds come home on the screen and watched some more birds come home on the screen. And I think my first prize that I got was like a 199th place.



And I’m not a loser. It upset me inside, even though I had an alligator smile. And I was happy for all the people there. Inside I was not good. And I told her this is never gonna happen again. So, a day later back in 20112012, they have the auction of the first 100 pigeons. And you’re able to handle them and buy what you like.


So I told my wife, I said, we’re going to go this route, which I think one loft racing is the key because club racing is starting to die off. If you win too much, everybody hates you. It’s not even fun going to the club anymore. So, I bought a lot of the winners. I bought the first place winner, the second place winner, the knockout winner, the car average winner.



And I thought, now we’re gonna do something. Because I ain’t going through this again. So I took the birds home. Well, I shouldn’t say I took them home. 2011 – 2012. Couldn’t get a bird out of Africa. It was illegal. So they sat there in Africa. They sat there in Africa for two years, right, in their quarantine lofts, and I paid a lot of money for all these winters.



And I kept thinking, how am I going to get these out of there? Do I fly to Africa? Do I smuggle them into the country? There has to be a way. So I talked to a few people. There was a way, and the only way there was, to send somebody to Africa, have that person fly with the pigeons to Holland, Europe.



So, I sent a guy to Africa, he put the key 4 or 5 pigeons, in a carry on bag. We had separators in there, we had them made. And he flew to Holland. When he gets off the plane, and the authorities got a hold of him and took him into the back room with the pigeons. They say, you can’t bring pigeons from Africa to anywhere in the world. And he says, well, I have to. I can’t survive, I can’t fly, I can’t travel without my pigeons. 


They make me feel good. Otherwise, I can’t do it. You know, they do that with dogs now also. You can have your dog on there if you have to.



So, I’m on the phone with the guy in Holland, and he’s locked up with the pigeons, with the authorities. They’re not letting him out, or the pigeons out. So, we kept going on and on, back and back, and Peter Fox was involved. And then Peter Fox went into the authorities, and he started talking to them.



And the guy that runs the quarantine, or the government of Holland, says, you know, we’ve had guys come here with two or three women that he was bringing to Holland. And his theory was he had to have them and without them he would have a breakdown. He said we had different things like that, but we never had anybody bringing pigeons He says, pigeons the flying rats.You got to have them with you? So make a long story short after three or four hours and paying a pretty nifty fine I was able to do it So I told Peter Fox, I said, pay them whatever they want, get the birds and get out of there while they’re still agreeing to this. So he did, he got out of there. He calls me back.



He says, Peter, Colin and him were in a car. We got the birds out. Everything’s fine. And we’re going to take them over to Peters house. So then the next step was bringing them to the States, which was easy. They just go through USDA quarantine. And then after 30 days, you can pick up your birds.



So I was the first person in the world, ever, to get birds out of Africa. And that was in 2011 – 2012. It’s never been done. But then, those pigeons made history. I mated the first place bird with the second place bird. And I bred a hen, I’m trying to think of her name. But, I mated her. I seen the father to the million dollar race from like three years ago up on Pipa’s site, so I bought it, and it was called Sun City. And so I mated, I mated the daughter, Margo’s Treasure was her name. I mated the daughter to Sun City, and I sent two babies to the Million Dollar Race in 2015 – 2016. And I ended up winning first in the South Africa Million Dollar Final Race.



Off of that, and that’s all genetics. So I knew that genetics are the key. To winning big races and I went on, I bought the winners and I bought the father of a winner and I mated them together and proved out right. So that was probably the start of everything 2011-2012 for one loft racing because I believe that that’s where the sports going to end up.



There won’t be club racing in another five years. It’s all going to be million dollar races around the world and different parts of the world. I think it’s good for the sport. I think it’s good for the people. It’s good for the wives. Good for the kids. They can send their babies and still do their vacations and spend time with the family.


But club racing is finished. It’s gonna keep dying out.



Mark: So what’s the continued vision now? Where you’re at now, some would say you’re at the pinnacle.



Mike: Yeah.



Mark: But a personality type like yourself, that’s not…



Mike: Yeah, that’s, that’s not me. Okay. I, I won a million dollar. And then three years later I won first and third in the Victoria Falls final race. I lost by, I could have had first and second if I had one more second, but so I won Victoria Falls.



Then people said, well, You know, maybe it’s time to retire out of the sport, enjoy it. You won two of the biggest races in the world. And I said, no, it’s not going to end yet. So last year I ended up winning Pattaya with 5,805 pigeons, first prize. And then people came from different auction houses.



I can make you this many million. If you want to sell all your pigeons, I said, I’m not done. I don’t want to give it up. What am I going to do with my life? Sit there and look at pigeon movies or whatever. So I know money’s not everything, you know, when you have some, you don’t need no more. And I didn’t want to give it up.



So now my goal is to win the Golden Algarve race, which we’re here now. And it’s a great race and he really puts on a beautiful event. I think the golden Algarve has the most visitors most fans, cheering at the final race of any race in the world. So I want to try to win the Golden Algarve and, and my hopes this year, and I’m not a bragger, but I want to win Pattaya again.



The year before I won, I was third and sixth. I lost by a second. Otherwise, I could have won Pattaya twice in a row. Two years in a row, I could have been first. One second out. But one second is a lot. But I want to win Pattaya this year and also the ace pigeon at Pattaya. Then I need to start figuring out what I want to do after that.



But I still have the win the Golden Algarve and I want to win Pattaya again. It’s a big step and a lot.. You gotta have some luck and you gotta have good visions and you gotta try hard. But you gotta have goals and that’s my goal. You asked me what I wanted to do and that’s it. That’s what I want to do. I’m not giving up for a while.



Mark: Maurice. I referred to you four years ago as Mr. Consistent. You produce consistently good, solid results. And that was prior to… You’re ultimately best known for producing Miss Maurice. And so it got better after we spoke four years ago. What, what are your goals?



Maurice: Something similar to Mike’s. I’m just delighted that he mentioned 2011. That he was, what did you say? 199th or something like that.



Mike: 196th, somewhere in that area.



Maurice: When you said it. I finished 110th, so I beat you .



Mike: Oh, you beat me . Alright, so that’s one. Maurice: That’s the one I have already.



Mike: You’ve got me there , Maurice: and that kickstart me, kickstarted me into one loft racing as well.



Mark: There’s some big similarities of timelines back around then. Maurice: Yeah. 2011 was my first year. And my first time over in South Africa was 2012-2013 season because in 2011, that pigeon, that was 110th, he was bred from a pigeon that I bought from Peter Fox and I mated it to a Jos Joosen bird. My ambition was to have one in the final it, not to win it, just to have one good enough to get to final.



And when he came in at 110th, I said, Whoa, I have something to work here with now. So the following year, because I won some prize money, I left it in the pot. And I said to the agent, Gerry, I said, I’m sending two teams next year. So my plan was to breed six youngsters off of that pair. It was three in a team, I think. I floated the first set of eggs, floated the second set of eggs, and then I them sit the third round of eggs. So the oldest of the youngsters would have only been 20 days. So it made no difference and in the last set only one of the eggs hatched So I had five going from that pair and I put in another youngster off of some other pigeons I can’t remember exactly what it was, but that youngster got lost in training. So I had five left and they went straight through to the final one of them actually won that competition there Cascade Challenge, do you remember that Mike?



It was kind of a 10 pool, and every fancier could only nominate one pigeon. No matter how many you sent, you could still only nominate one. And ifthe pigeon that you nominated, if there was no winner, if the winning pigeon hadn’t been nominated, then the money would carry on to the next week, and it would carry on to the next week, and the next week.



So it could end up a substantial amount of money.



The pigeon that won it for me, his name was Panicky Pete. And I can remember Gerry McCourt saying to me, he said, He’d be no good, Maurice, no good for the final. He said, he’s too fast for his own good. 


He won’t last the final. All those five youngsters, siblings, went to the final. And all five of them clocked in the final.


And Panicky Pete was actually my first one back. So, that shut Gerry up. So, and they were all off a cock called… Son Teofilio, that I bought from Peter Fox. And I actually still have some of the pigeons bred down that way. And I crossed them in with the Miss Maurice lines. They originated from a fancier in Belgium.



Mark: Yeah, I was going to ask you, so that brings us on to Miss Maurice. So, the lines, what are the lines for people that don’t know Miss Maurice?



Maurice: It’s a guy I was watching, I was watching the results every week on Pippa. All the international results and to see who was winning and blah, blah. And I’d scroll down and it could be, say, the Pépignan International.



And all I kept seeing was this name cropping up the whole time. It says, Van Ouwerkerk Dekkers. That’s the way a lot of the Belgian people, the wife’s surname was Dekkers. And I kept watching, I kept following him for about three years. And he just kept popping up in all the results. And he wouldn’t just have an odd pigeon.


He could have 20 in the top 100, 150, in the internationals with 15,000 pigeons competing. So I said, this guy can’t have any rubbish. And one year, he sent 21 to Barcelona. And he clocked 20. And that’s 700 miles to him. So I said, I have to get a few of these pigeons, and that’s what I did…


Mark: So you went over to…



Maurice: Yeah, and bought six late bred youngsters and brought them back home. Three cocks, three hens, I mated them all together, and I sent the first round six babies off of them to the Algarve that year. And that year, the six babies flew every race. Six of them clocked in the final and 3 them were in the prize money. So I said, I’m on to something here.



Mark: So from when you got those six latebreds to when you produced Miss Maurice, how long was that? How long did it take to get Miss Maurice?



Maurice: Well they were 2016, Star Boy is 2016, Miss Maurice was a 2019 bird. But they had produced the ones in 2018. To the Algarve. So, I remember I was, like, there were five blues and a blue white flight. And I knew the white flight, but there was just something about him.



He used to stand out. And I mated him. I remember they rang me. Jackie’s son rang me. And he said, Do you still have the pigeon 045? And I said, yes, why? He said, her father is just after being declared the national ace pigeon of Belgium. Three years in a row from Barcelona. And I said, Jesus. And I looked at my book, and I had her mated to the blue white flight cock.



And I remember, the eggs were hatched. Didn’t take much notice. So after about a week, I started ringing the youngsters. And I went into the nest, and I took out the nest book. And I saw the youngsters. I saw this one. There’s a lot of white. Jesus, where did this come out of? So I looked and I grabbed the cock, just to have a proper look at him again, and he had a white beak.



So that means back in the line somewhere, there was a white, or a pigeon with a lot of white in him. So I said, you’re going to South Africa. I said, because if you land on that pad, And there’s a camera on you. I’ll know it’s you by the markings. And I was out of my house, and there was a few of the lads with me.



And when she came in, it was a tough race. I think there was only three day birds. You actually bought the winner, didn’t you Mike?



Mike: hmm.



Maurice: Slovakian bird or something.



Mike: There was only three birds on the day. So we were all up the next morning watching it on the big screen in my house. And next thing…



Maurice: All of a sudden, you could just see this white pigeon. A pigeon with a lot of white circling around. She dropped onto the pad, and I just turned around to the lads and said, That’s mine! I said, that’s Miss Maurice. And next thing, boom, and up on the screen it comes, Miss Maurice. That was the excitement!



But yeah, that was it. And her father was a star boy. And he’s, after producing another one in the Algarve that I finished co winner. There was ten came together, but he didn’t win, he got 9th position. A pigeon called Sapsan. A guy from Romania, I think from Bulgaria. One of the Eastern European countries.



And he’s produced winners for him. And Starboy Mike produced Miss Debbie, this January, prolific line. You identified the hard, long distance pigeons and, you know, it took a couple years to, Yeah, but what I said to Mike several times, what I kind of look for, I don’t look for a specific type of pigeon or that, I look for consistency.


If pigeons are consistent, they’ll get their turn someday. Someday, they’d click. And like in one loft racing, you need good pigeons to start with. If you haven’t got good pigeons, forget about it. You’re wasting your time and your money. Why I was saying, genetics is key. You definitely along the lines of you need one loft result winners.


Top consistent one loft pigeons to produce One loft pigeons. 


Obviously mixed in with with genetics of hard, hard long distance pigeons for certain races. There was a guy, I didn’t even know this, there was a guy who sent me a message on Messenger, I couldn’t read it, and he was after buying a Miss Maurice pigeon in some auction somewhere, and he bred off it, and it won a one loft race in Mexico.



I didn’t even know that pigeon racing in Mexico.



Mike: Oh, they have lots of players. Yeah. Yeah, it’s big races. 40,000 50,000 birds in a race.



Mark: So, seeing Miss Maurice hit that deck and you knowing it was her before she came up was probably your best ever.



Maurice: Oh, without a doubt. Without a doubt, yeah.



Mark: What would you say yours is Mike?. The big one, the Thailand race?



Mike: Yeah, it was 5800 pigeons. First time I saw it, I cried. 5800 pigeons is a lot of pigeons and all the top lofts in the world are there. There’s 2,000 people. When you win that race, right now, that’s probably the biggest race in the world.



Maurice: You cried, you cried. Mike: Yeah, I did.



Maurice: That’s amazing. I didn’t go the year before, so I picked the right year to go, you know.



Mike: If I would have been there and lost by the second, I would have cried again. I would have been pissed off. I lost by the second.



Mark: Outside of results, is there anything you look for in a pigeon? 


Mike: I look at results. I look at genetics. I have a certain type of head I like on a pigeon. I like balance. I don’t like deep keeled pigeons. I like small to medium sized pigeons. And I just like smart looking pigeons, there’s a look to a smart pigeon. And I don’t know, and I’m not saying this just to brag up Miss Debbie, but if you ever watch the video of her, she’s really sharp looking. 


She’s got everything, her head is just the type I look for, and I’m not saying that because she won Pattaya, but she’s a real class act. She’s real tame, she’s watching you all the time, you know, she won’t get off the nest, she’ll kill you, she’ll, she sat on eggs for ten days by herself with no male. I wanted to see how long she’d sit. She wouldn’t get off. And a lot of birds won’t do that. She just has character. And I think all this, all this plays a part. You know, you have to spend time looking at them, watching your birds, but it’s they’re all individual, aren’t they?



They’re all different, just like people. You know, but a smart pigeon will tell you how you’re smart. You can pick them out.



Mark: What do you think the hardest one off race in the world to win? Mike: Probably this one.



Mark: It’s funny because we were coming out yesterday and Zandie was saying the terrain when we came down the west side, the coast really, look at the terrain.It’s rough.



Mike: Yeah, it is rough terrain. You know, the million dollar race was a really good tough race. That was a tough race. And birds that won. Early prizes at a million dollars, either ace pigeons, winners, or knockouts, or whatever. Those all turned out to be good birds. I don’t know one bad one out of all of them.



I bought eight out of nine years the winning pigeon from Africa. All of them were good. It’s just, if they have to fly nine, ten, eleven hours in heat, and it is hot for them races, they have to be good. You know, it’s not a fluke. I’ve never had a bad one out of the nine. Or eight out of the nine first place winners that I bought. All good.



Genetics. It’s all genetics. And what people don’t realise, and I mentioned this yesterday, for the Golden Algarve race, they catch their birds at 4 or 5 o’clock at night, they put them on a truck, they drive them out the next morning, they let them go, the race goes off. The final race, they catch them on Thursday, they sit on a truck for two days, they let them go on Saturday.



It’s a totally different pigeon. It changes the whole race right there. Two days in a crate to one day in a crate is, is very, very big in the pigeon sport. And it takes just like Barcelona, five days to get the birds released. Them birds are bred for that. It’s all genetically. You’re not going to put a medium distance pigeon in a truck for five days and think you’re gonna win Barcelona, it ain’t gonna happen.



It’s, it’s the same here. It’s gonna be birds that can handle that.



Mark: The type of pigeons you guys have is the future.



Maurice: Yeah, but unfortunately, there’s a lot of other guys that have good pigeons.



Mark: But if you had to pick conditions… for your pigeons to have the best chance it would be these conditions.



Maurice: Yeah, tomorrow. Yeah. You see, because why I say this race is probably one of the toughest is, you see, they race from north to south. They’re released in north Portugal and they’re racing down to the south. And at this time of the year, the wind is predominantly southerly. So it’s a headwind nine times, nine years out of ten.


It’s a headwind they’re flying into. So you’ve got the Terrain, like you said, you’ve got the heat and then you’ve got the wind on their nose. You need a tough pigeon to come through that. A tough pigeon. See what happens. Yeah, we just have to see what happens. You still have to have luck, you know.



Mike: You’ve got to have the birds, the genetics. Hopefully, the trainer got your bird into condition and they’re healthy. The moult has to be good. If they lost their body feathers, they’re not going to come home tomorrow. It’s over. So things that you have in your control is good, that’s the genetics, the breeding, that’s it, that’s all we could do, the rest of it relying on other people to manage them, and have some luck, right day, right time.



Maurice: Which I think here as well, I think the management here, because I’ve come here several times outside, before the final. I’ve come here in, in July, in June, in May, and we’ve seen the pigeons, and we’ve seen the loft manager, and what he does. He is, I think, one of the best pigeon fanciers I’ve ever seen in my life.


He could go up there into that loft with 6,000 pigeons, and he’d nearly make him talk. He’s just unbelievable. Rogerio. And he knows, he just walks around all day and he said it, to be a good loft manager. He said what you actually need, he said, is two pairs of eyes. He said you need a pair in the back of your head as well, to make sure when you’re going around that you miss nothing.



If he sees a pigeon that’s not a hundred percent, boom, the pigeon is taken out and he’s brought down to the sick bay section. And he makes sure that that pigeon is a hundred percent before he’s brought back to the rest. Whereas you’ve got one loft races and the guys, they don’t know one pigeon from another.



They don’t know if the pigeons are ill. They don’t know anything, but Rogerio does. He oversees all the feeding, everything. And when the guys are inside giving the pigeons the food, he’s watching to make sure that the birds come down from the perches for the food. And if they don’t, he says, Something’s not right here.



I’ve never been in Pattaya, but I’m sure it’s similar out there because they don’t lose a lot of pigeons in Pattaya.



Mike: And that’s it, you can tell that the pigeon, that the health is good. I think it’s globally the case that club racing is on the decline.



Mark: Certainly the numbers down in the UK are the only numbers I definitely know. And you said In your opinion, one loft racing is the future, which I’d agree with. How do you see it progressing?



Mike: I think right now you have four races, four one loft races in the world that pay over a million dollars a race, or for the whole, total race.


I look at the future of probably in the next three or four years, maybe ten races over a million dollars, and I look for two or three races over two million dollars. The prices of birds are going up. It’s amazing what some pigeons bring when they’re sold. I was talking to Peter Fox yesterday about China and some birds were sold for 80,000.



One guy sold one for 300,000. These are legitimate sales. And people want to win. And, you know, it’s a lot of pride in this sport. You have some very wealthy fanciers in China or anywhere in the world. And they would give 10 million if they could win in Algarve or a million dollar race or it’s pride and you could see that in the China races.



They they just sold a bird for two million dollars you know, it’s pride more than money and there are a lot of rich people in the world and they want one loft races, club races ain’t gonna exist. So I see it progressing really well. It’s gonna grow the sport, sadly to say, the prices are going to go up for pigeons just like racehorses.



Some racehorses sell for 10 million, some more than that. Pigeons are going to do the same. It’s not going to stop. It’s going to keep compounding higher and higher. It’s easier to race pigeons and compete than it is horses. And it don’t take so much to buy a good pigeon like it does a really good horse.


And then the maintenance of a horse and transporting a horse to all these different races. The Pigeon Sport is going to grow.



Mark: If I may, we’ll come back to the parallels with horse racing. I’ve got a few opinions on that myself. And the future of it. But one question that I’d like to ask is when do you think we’ll see the first million dollar prize?



Mike: First prize. I think really soon. I would say there will be a million dollar prize in the next three years. First prize. The Hoosier had first prize two years ago a half a million. 500,000. That was pretty good. And that was probably the highest that I know of for first place. And I was lucky enough to get second.



Maurice: What was that for second?



Mike: It was five on a drop I think, or six on a drop and everybody got like 145,000 or something. I lost by a second. No, wait, two seconds. I’m sorry. It was close, but two seconds is two seconds. Yeah, that’s the way he does it. He pays by the drop, if five pigeons come together they split it. Yeah, you know you add up the first five places, divided by five and then you divide them five prizes by five I think it’s better because otherwise you’re looking at somebody getting 500,000 and the fifth place bird getting 15,000.



Yeah, but I I think like your question was a million dollars for first I think next three years and I think it’ll hit a million it’s already like that in China and it will it will happen in this country also or In the United States, or here, or wherever, but it will happen.



Mark: I mean, in the U.S., there’s pretty much, not big, big races, like the Hoosier, but there’s pretty much, from my knowledge of it, you could compete in a one off race pretty much every weekend in the U.S? There’s like 75 one off races in the U.S.



Mike: and the Hoosier pays the most. And then you have another race Miami Derby. They’re going to be 1.1 million. And then you have another six races that are a half a million. And then you probably have 20 that are say 250 thousand or 250, 000, but there’s a lot of money there.


There’s more birds in the one loft races now in the States than there ever was before. This is the most pigeons ever sent to one loft races in the United States. There’s lots of them that I have birds in. It’s certainly come on in the last 30 years.



Mark: I visited there 30 years ago now. I visited the Las Vegas race. Mike: Oh, you were there in 2000?



Mark: I didn’t actually attend for the race.



Mike: I ran that race.



Mark: Did you?



So I went to see Bill Ensign.



Mike: He was my partner. Suvit, Bill Ensign, and I ran it. We started it. It was a million dollar race in Vegas in 2000.



Mark: I didn’t attend the race, but I had a very interesting weekend in Las Vegas.



Mike: At the Monte Carlo?



Mark: Yes.



Mike: He owned it. Yep. We stayed there for two weeks.



Mark: The Monte Carlo used to be my hotel that I used to go to regularly in Vegas, but I stayed at one of his other hotels.



Mike: Okay. The other one off the, off the Strip.



Mark: Yeah, and I attended the one in San Diego, and then if you look now where it’s come, That’s the progression that’s just gonna keep going. Mike: We had the Monte Carlo. We had the whole, the whole top floor. All the honeymoon suites. We had 40 of those, all for all my friends and guests. All the food, our cars, everything. It was a riot. We were there two weeks, my wife and I. But Peter Fox, he he got second place. And he won, we paid him cash, 77, 000 US in cash.


But I bred the bird for him, but he won.



Mark: I’ve said personally, one loft racing is the future and some people watching this may be put off by the numbers that we talk about. You know, and it’s true, the price of pigeons are going to go up. But, certainly within the UK and Ireland, yes, the genetics have got to be there.



Turn back the clock to when you went over and caught the pigeons that you started. The Miss Maurice line, they didn’t cost you a load of money?



Maurice: No. You know, you investigated and you, you developed the genetics, the genetics were there. They weren’t big money pigeons. So from people looking at this now, it isn’t all, you don’t have to go and spend thousands to start trying.



You know, I’d be honest with you, if you wanna compete in one loft racing, you have to buy good pigeons. You have to buy genetics. I was just, I would consider myself lucky that I stumbled across this guy. If I wasn’t looking at the results on the internet, I would never have heard of him. And that’s why his pigeons were cheap, because nobody had heard of him, except the people in his club.



Mark: But what you’ve also said to me many times, I guess I’m going at it, is people who are looking to get into what I’ve raised may not have… The budgets to start buying winners and ace pigeons. What you’ve said to me many times in our conversations, your belief about genetics, the genetics are there.



Yeah, so it doesn’t matter if it’s grandchildren. People believe a grandchild of this race has the same potential as a child. So for most people, getting a child out of a top one loft pigeon, for some people, that may not be possible. Do you believe in the grandchild?



Maurice: Yeah, some people, when I was buying an odd pigeon here and there, you know, fellas would say to me, Ah, Maurice, it’s, you know, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that you’ve gone too far down the line.



But I said, you must remember. That apple, the winner, that pigeon had a grandfather, and a great grandfather, and a great grandfather also. And they mightn’t have won anything, but maybe it was the great grandfather was a champion pigeon. I think sometimes they can skip a few generations, but every so often, if the blood is in them and the genetics are in them, it’ll come out again.



I mean, obviously, in an ideal world, you want to get the closest you can. Champion racers don’t necessarily bring you the goods.



Mark: So, what advice would you give to somebody starting, obviously, if they want to enter one loft races, We know to get the best genetics you can afford, research, Is there anything else that you’d say to people wanting to start?



They maybe have been in pigeons, but not in one loft races. Is there any more advice you’d give other than genetics and research?



Maurice: Not really, just look for consistency. If you go to a fancier that’s consistent in his racing, not just for one year, any fancier can have a bad year, bad season, but if you go back over, three or four years, and if he’s after having four good seasons out of five, he’s consistent.



He might have had one bad season, everybody does. Every racehorse runs a bad race at some stage. So, but I’m a firm believer in the genetics, that they would come out again. Like a lot of people can’t afford to buy children off of the champions, you know? So, if you can’t afford to buy children, if you can’t afford to buy grandchildren, buy great grandchildren.



I’m a firm believer in that. Now, I might be wrong. Like, Star Boy, the parents of Miss Maurice. They weren’t champion breeders. They were actually still racing. The first year that Star Boy flew Barcelona, the guy, and his mates, all these pigeons back after the Barcelona International. And he lets them rear a pair of youngsters before the winter, before he separates them.



It’s to bond them to their box. And they’re the pigeons that I bought off him. So, there was no champions there, but they turned out to be champions, Starboy. And the mother of Miss Maurice, the 045 Hen. Her father turned out to be the National Ace Pigeon, three years in a row. Paco Barcelona. But when I got him…There was no, there was no a champion there. That’s what I’m saying. I consider myself lucky that I stumbled on it.



Mark: What about you, Mike? Is there any advice you’d give?



Mike: Yeah, I have some really good advice. Buy his best. Bring the cheque book. (Speaking about Maurice.) No, if I couldn’t afford the winter and the next step would be ahead of buying children and maybe buying grandchildren or whatever. Anything in the top 100 places. You never know.


I like birds that flew. Okay? If they could handle all the racers, and they could handle the final race, and they’re only beat, and they’re in the top 100, maybe in a big race, even the top 500, you’re better off than buying something from somebody that the bird wasn’t raced.



Yeah, buy something that raced, even if it’s a little late, it could have had some problems. It could have moulted wrong. It could have had all kinds of different things why it didn’t win. But if you buy something that at least was in that race and was early or like Maurice says Consistency, it’s probably even better when you started looking at those ways of buying birds, but look at the ace pigeons maybe the top 50 ace pigeons and then look at The final race, the top pigeons from the first hundred if there’s 2,000 birds in a race.



And if there’s more, maybe even drop it down to the first 200 birds. But something that already flew, that proved itself it could do that course, buy those, mate them back together and send them babies to the same race, and your chances are far better than going to somebody’s loft and… Say, no, I want that pretty one there and that nice looking one there.



Oh, this one handles good, I’ll buy this one. This one has a super eye. This one’s this. And mate them together. Buy the ones that are already flew the race, even if they’re late. And your chances are far better. That’s what I would do if it was me.



Maurice: I did it one year, a mate of mine was at home after the Algarve race finished.



I think it was about four years ago, five years ago. And the auctions were on. And there was a pigeon on it. And he rang me and he said to me, did you see such a pigeon? And I said, well, I wouldn’t. And it was a black pigeon. And, I said, no, I said, Pat, I said, I never had black pigeons. I said, I’m just not a fan of them. I said, why?


He said, he’s from the loft of Ralf Berger in Germany. And he said, Ralf Berger won the Victoria Falls race. Marvellous. Last year or the year before. And I said, Jesus said I didn’t know that, you know, the name didn’t ring a bell. So, the pigeon was cheap, it was only a couple of hundred euros in the auction.



So I bid on him, I said I’d buy him. I said I’d introduce a black pigeon to the loft. When I got him home, the next year I mated him to… a youngster a daughter of a pigeon I called Whitie. I made her and that pigeon, the youngster ended up, it was a black youngster and he ended up being 56th in the Pattaya race.


And he won me the two bird. I was 53rd and 56th.



And I won the, the small team prize. So, proves what Mike said. He was after doing the job, flying the race, just because he didn’t win, anything could have happened. Could have been chased with a hawk, you don’t know. When they’re up in the sky, you don’t know what happened.



Mike: Right. Buy in the top 100. If they’re really big racers, look at the aces up to 1 to 50. And some of them can go really cheap.



Maurice: Some of those pigeons sometimes, you can buy them fairly reasonable, fairly cheap. And that’s a great thing with being able to research. Now with online with Benzing, you can go through, you can do your homework. Yeah. You were looking on the result sites. Now you’ve got pretty much all the history of one website you could look into.



Mike: Yeah, Benzing, it will go back a year. I bought, I bought a bird this year that was 366th place in Victoria Falls. Second day. For a pretty good price. The reason I did that was, it was first super ace, first grand average, first ace pigeon, first everything up to the final race, four times in the top 60 in all the races in Victoria Falls with side wins, head winds, birds missing, always there, right?



When you’re in the top 50 of 2, 500 or 1, 500 pigeons, time after time, I thought the bird made a mistake. Like Maurice says, a hawk could have scared it. A lot of things happened. They only had 17 day birds. The bird made a mistake with all the other birds. But to pass that up is, is, is a big mistake for other people.


I liked what I seen. I liked the wing. I liked the picture of the head. And I liked the results. The results were super. There wasn’t a better bird in Victoria Falls up to the final. If that bird would have been on a day, it would have sold for a crazy price because there’s never been one that good. 


And I think I only paid, I think 8, 000 for it. And I look for that to be a top breeding and for the future. It’s always there. You know, never made a mistake till the final.



Mark: So, lastly there’s parallels with horse racing. And I’ve talked about this before. To me, it is easier to keep pigeons. you could own a syndicate and a horse. You don’t have to go and feed it, muck it out, what have you.



And obviously syndicates are a big part of the one off races now. I know, you mentioned earlier, you’ve got some friends that perhaps don’t even keep pigeons and they’re going to come in on a syndicate and you’ve got others that put their own pigeons in, what have you.



I’m always keen to try and get more people. Yeah, there’s some differences. Obviously you can have multiple horse races within a few hours. Here you’ve got to wait a long, long, considerable amount of time for the finals. Yeah. But there’s other things that can be done in the meantime. And the idea of bringing in syndicates for anybody to get involved in is something I think can really progress things forward.



And nobody’s really doing it yet. But I think if people only realised how exciting it is, certainly the final, what do you think the idea of people being able to pay like you would in a racehorse, in your own apartment syndicate, and anybody can get involved.



Mike: Yeah. It’s a big plus. Yeah, it’s good.



It’s good. You can go and pick your young birds from a pair. You can either own part of a pair, produce a baby. It’s going that way. Maurice does a lot of that. You do a lot of syndicates.



Maurice: Yeah, all my birds this year in the Algrvae, they’re all in syndicates.



Mark: Yeah, I mean, you’re a big syndicate player. But I’m talking about what you’re doing it.



You can go to a syndicate site and say, Alright, I want to own part of that racehorse on a website. And people go and buy a part of it and they can attend the races. Why not? Why can’t we do the same?



Mike: Could do that. Put a picture of the bird up there and a parent’s picture and say, Hey, if you want to buy this, it’s 50 percent. The winnings goes to you, and 50 percent goes to me. Like we said earlier, it’s only getting bigger and bigger. Yeah, It’s gonna grow, it’s gonna keep growing.



Mark: Well, we’ll look to wrap up. The first thing is to say good luck tomorrow.



Mike: Thank you.



Maurice: Thank you. It’s it’s gonna be an exciting day.



Mark: Zandie, who’s with us here, he can’t wait. He said yesterday was probably one of the best pigeon days he’s ever had.



Mike: I can’t wait to get off and meet you guys at the bar last night. Tomorrow, I’ll be floating. And I know it’s also, you know, it’s just, it’s a lovely place to be.


Like you said earlier, one off racing. People bring their families, you’ve got your family with you. It’s a great holiday, it’s an experience. And who knows, we could win a lot, win some money as well.



Mark: But anyway, yeah, good luck. Thank you very much for both doing it. A lot of people are gonna enjoy what you’ve said.



The advice is golden. And the race is golden. Thank you. Thank you very much. 




This interview is taken from a video podcast. 


The video can be viewed here: 


Mark Lyford 



Tel: UK (+44) 07887 345600



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