John Underdown is a long distance enthusiast. Like many others with this aim he is not interested in any other racing, so he uses his local club just a couple of times in the early season to get his pigeons fit. Long distance pigeons will not race the same as others and they do not show their best until the miles increase and when John first began with them he did not believe it. But it is proved to be true and long discussions fellow fanciers are held during winter gatherings as to why this is, and most just grow to accept it, so early shorter races are not even entered with a view to winning.
The winner of the British International Championship Club from Pau was prepared in just that way, by having two races inland with the local club before the first British International Championship Club race from Fougeres. Tough regimes in the early season but his pigeons are bred from generations of tough performers.
John decided to concentrate on the long distance races in 2004 and acquired long distance birds from Eric Fox and Martin Greatham. John has developed a good friendship with Martin over the years and says he will go out of his way to help or advise. Martin races a team of long distance birds based on the Southwell pigeons, a family that for many years had been tested in the very best of long distance races. Going back to the 1940s and 50s, the name of Norman Southwell may not be well known to many present day fanciers, but there are many who will be eternally grateful to him for providing the strong foundations required for the extreme distances.
One day, John received a call from a friend who was visiting Frank Sheader in an effort to buy some Sootjen sprint pigeons. Whilst he was there he noticed a section of pigeons and enquired as to their breeding. Frank told him they were long distance stock, direct from Kipp & Schone in Germany, and as there were two youngsters available, he called John and a purchase was made on his behalf.
As they were young enough he let them out, and as yearlings they were paired to his Southwell pigeons and one of the offspring was “Danny” He is a real character around the loft and John says he is a real jealous pigeon, a trait that John can use when required.
Before this win from Pau, a distance of 570 miles, “Danny” had previously won 18th Open National Flying Club Tarbes and 30th Open British International Championship Club from Pau in 2014 and was therefore, paired to Johns other Pau winner who in 2007 won the London South East Classic and bred three youngsters out of them.
His pigeons are hopper fed 24/7 with titbits given just before dark every night, and he is a great believer in natural additives, with honey, glucose and Elderberry juice being used when required. Treatments are never given and a bout of youngbird sickness is left to run its course.
In preparation for the extreme distances Poitiers, about 345 miles, is as far as they will go, then he trains privately from 50 miles early in the morning and will switch from Folkstone to Hastings. This year Danny was sent to Pithivers with the East of England Classic Club before being lifted into Pau.
Raced on a form of Natural/Jelousey system his pigeons are paired on the 1st of April and once racing the hens are boxed up during the day in a section next to the cocks and if John goes into them he can hear Danny jumping up at the door in expectation.
On the day of the International race only 17 birds made it home on the day and they were on the continent so John was up at 4am the very next day, like many others who had sent in the race, and wited patiently until at 9:22 am he saw his red cock swoop over the house and into the loft. Not having an electronic timing system anymore, because he felt it took away the fun and anticipation, John gently removed one of his two rubbers to time him doing 724 yards per minute and win first open.