Race Directors Report
The Platinum edition South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race! As any parent knows the teenage years are the hardest and by their 20’s children start to cause less grey hairs; or so it should be. This year’s race presented us with unusual new and unique challenges in the run up to the main race; including problems with import permits, loft modifications, a recording breaking heat wave and a shortened training schedule. But, with the help of all involved, these challenges were embraced and overcome.
Basketing took place on Thursday and after a bite to eat and watching the pigeons being loaded into the transporter, fanciers moved across the road to the basketing venue. Basketing is the first time fanciers from across the globe get a chance to say hello to old friends and make new ones and this year was no exception as we welcomed first time visitors to the race.
Just after 13:00 the process of basketing this year’s hopefuls started. The entire basketing procedure is run by independent auditors who oversee and verify that every pigeon is in fact recorded in our database correctly and is officially basketed for the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race. In addition to this two veterinarians are on hand to double check the health of the pigeons being basketed and any pigeons they feel cannot compete in the race are withdrawn. Everyone present felt that the pigeons competing in this year’s race looked and felt excellent in the hand.
Around 16:00, the basketing was completed and the auditors presented the Race Director with a list of the pigeons being basketed. This is also a little nerve wrecking as should their tally not match the loaded basketing list, then the whole procedure has to be restarted. But in the end all figures balanced and a total of 2161 pigeons where basketed and loaded into the transporter ready for the journey to the liberation.
In the run up to the race there had been much speculation as to the final race distance, Air Sport Internationale and the trainers agreed that the race had to be tough but not cruel to the pigeons. With this in mind the various weather sites and experts in the area of the planned liberation were consulted and in the end, with the forecasted weather playing along, it was decided that the pigeons would be liberated from Douglas, a distance of 541km.
At 03:45 Friday morning the transporter followed by a support vehicle started the long journey down to Douglas, which is situated in the Northern Cape province of South Africa. Along the route down, a pit stop was taken near Bloemhof where the pigeons were presented with food and water. After this the transporter continued its journey to Douglas where the pigeons were once again presented with water and settled in for the night. It was going to a big day for them and like all athletes they needed their rest.
The Welcome Dinner took place in La Toscana at Montecasino and was a great evening enjoyed by all. As part of the festivities, Air Sport Internationale took the opportunity to thank those shippers and individuals that had been with the race for more than ten years and have made a significant contribution to the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race over the last 20 years, in the form of special blazers with a unique Platinum Edition logo. Sara J Blackshaw, MD of Air Sport Internationale, made an announcement that the future of the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race had been once again secured and that due to the unsuitability of the current location of the race lofts, the race would be moving to the Vaal River, assuring everyone of Air Sport’ commitment to this great race.
Bright and early Saturday morning, while most fanciers where still snuggled in their beds, the pigeons were transported to the liberation site and preparations were made for the liberation. Once again the weather forecasts were consulted and the all clear was given. At 06:15 the pigeons were released and the race was on!
Just after 10:00 at the Ballroom at Montecasiono, local and international fanciers gathered, meeting new friends and supporting the many trade stands that offered all items pigeon related. Even this early the excitement in the air was tangible and many entrants expressed that butterflies had taken over their stomachs. While those gathered were entertained by videos of the Hot Spot Car Races, constant updates of the weather along the flight paths were received and weather and wind sites became popular as many interested fanciers bombarded them for more information. One thing that became clear, it was going to be a challenge worthy of the main race with headwinds prevailing most of the day.
South Africa has been experiencing the worst drought in decades and it was with mixed emotion that the forecast of afternoon rain in and around Johannesburg grew from a maybe to a definitely! Reports of rain started coming in from various areas along the flight path, but a quick calculation of where the pigeons should be eased nerves as the pigeons should have been long past these areas. At the lofts and in the Ballroom the atmosphere became more charged as fanciers and staff wondered which would come first, the pigeons or the rain.
Just before 15:00 the question was answered as against the backdrop of a stormy sky, a light checker appeared over the horizon and made a bee line for the lofts. During training the pigeons seldom arrive alone, and we have to wonder what goes through a pigeons mind as it arrives home and none of its loft mates are there; after a few minutes wondering, this brave athlete turned around and walked into the lofts. In the Ballroom and across the world with those watching via Livestream, nervous chatter and boisterous words of encouragement quieted to an eerie silence as they waited for the big screens to announce who the winner was.
Moments later the result was in and the celebrations rang across the globe! Mike Ganus’ “Laura Is A Big Winner today~!” became the winner of the Platinum Edition of the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race, taking the winners title and US$150 000.00 to the United States of America. This pigeon had shown promise in the harder Hot Spot Car Races taking 229th and 50th in the third and fourth Hot Spots. A well-deserved winner from a world renowned fancier!
After Laura, the wait was on for the second pigeon, with concerns over the looming weather growing as well. The wait was not long though as 15 minutes later another blue check pigeon landed at the lofts, took a moment to settle and walked into the lofts. Second Chance entered by Reinhard Gebhardt from Germany took second place winning US$100 000! 15 Minutes wait and two more pigeons arrived and netted positions for Germany and USA with Star Appeal and Bendecido taking third and fourth respectively for punters who decided to take a chance on some of the not entered reserve pigeons.
By 17:03 a further 11 pigeons had arrived taking places for Germany, Netherlands, Iraq (with a pigeon bred in Belgium), the United Kingdom, the USA and Austria. And then the heavens opened with a specular display of lightning, thunder and a very much needed downpour. As luck would have it, the rain did not last long and rewarded those watching with an amazing double rainbow. It was against this wondrous back drop that the pigeons continued to arrive and by 19:10 a total of 43 pigeons representing 11 countries were safely home, including the Knock Out Winner, Team Germany – Girls United’s Maria-Anna at position 37 and the winner of the Zandy Meyer Memorial Car Nomination Race at position 36 won by the United Kingdom entrant Lloyd and Kelly’s Steventon Lass!
The winner’s dinner was held in the Ballroom and was a grand affair, and once all the speeches and top ten winners present were called up and handed their trophies and platinum coins, every one sat down to a glorious meal.
On Sunday morning the pigeons continued to arrive and shortly before 09:25 the top 300 pigeons had safely returned to the lofts with 26 countries being represented in the top 300 positions. Behind the scenes the auditors verified the returning pigeons and the administration and loft staff worked hard to get the auction pigeons photographed and sorted in time for the auction viewing. As had been announced on the web site and at the Winner’s Dinner, the American pigeons could not be auctioned due to the restrictions and conditions under which they had been imported to compete in the race and 19 pigeons from America had to be withdrawn from the auction. These pigeons will be returned to America where they will be auctioned along with the balance of the of the American pigeons.
A lot of work has gone into securing shipping routes out of South Africa in the past few months and it was a pleasure to once again invite international buyers to bid on the winning pigeons and purchase those that had completed the “greatest pigeon race in the world!”
The top price at the auction this year was R320 000.00 paid for Gebhardt’s pigeon Second Chance. Other top prices were achieved for Gerard Koopman’s Ainsley and Jan Hooymans’ Tweekruisjes . The winner of the Knock Out Competition, Team Germany – Girls United’s Maria-Anna, sold for R75 000.00.
The balance of the returned pigeons will be sold at local auctions across South Africa, using our revamped pre-auction commission bidding system to open the bidding to all.
On behalf of all those that work tirelessly to make the South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race what it is, we would like to thank each and every one that has supported us during the past season and look forward to showing you what amazing plans we have for the future of this great event!
Click Here for Article in RP 11/03/16 –
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