Underhill & Prettejohn
When the partnership of Underhill & Prettejohn timed in their first arrival it was not until they walked into the clubhouse for the clock check in the evening, that they realised their pigeon “Rossi” had won the first National Flying Club race of the season. The members of the Plymouth & District Classic Club, greeted them with two bottles of Champagne and a round of applause. This surprise almost matched the arrival of their winner, as Mike was busy taking care of an injured pigeon when he dropped onto the landing board several minutes before expected.
After a one-day holdover at Fougeres, the National Flying Club birds were released at 8am into a light southeast wind, which was reported to be veering south west in the channel, turning due south inland. So Rossi had obviously taken the most direct line to the loft but with the wind turning south inland and no internet leaderboard to consult, they thought they stood a good chance of being beaten “up country” into section L. This was not to be and now their local pigeon club can boast of five NFC winners amongst the members.
Mike Underhill’s neat and tidy loft setup is the long distance half of the partnership Underhill & Prettejohn and situated high on the hillside, with Dartmoor National Park in the distance and the coast just a mile away. Robbie Prettiejohn’s loft, situated just down the road, contains the sprint to middle distance birds. This way the partnership can pool their resources, implement different systems and race as Underhill & Prettejohn to one loft and Prettejohn & Underhill to the other.
With Tarbes in mind the long distance loft is populated with some of the very best long distance breeding in the UK today, with an emphasis on two day racing. Wingdown, Little Gem, True Grit, Legacy, Rainy Day Boy and Incredible all feature very strongly in the race team, as only direct children will suffice in the select breeding loft. But they felt they also needed 500-mile day birds if the weather conditions were favorable for a faster Tarbes race so they approached Bruce McAlistair from Pelham to obtain a cock from his Brockamp/Emperor lines. Then, with a view to buying a hen they attended a Premier Stud auction in Blackpool. There they saw Derek Nichols and asked which did he think they should buy “lot one” he said, “she is full sister to a combine winner from 400 miles and would breed good pigeons” Their bid was successful, and true to the advice the pairing went on to breed the Fougeres National winner, which is also a half brother to “Money Spinner” who has regularly won the pools in the Plymouth & District Classic Club, won 3rd section D 114 open NFC Ancenis 2015 and 9th section D Messac 2015.
The Underhill & Prettejohn loft is immaculately tidy and Mike is obviously an “A type” personality with an eye for simplicity. Every effort has been made to keep the pigeons in a clean and calm environment with grids throughout and white washed walls. Mike thinks this is most important along with perfect ventilation, which is achieved through short chimneys in the pent roof. Aviaries running along the front of the loft allow a safe bathing area where the pigeons can relax in the sunshine but during the day the cocks sleep peacefully in their boxes which Mike can confirm by watching the CCTV cameras remotely, which he does even whilst at work.
After rearing a youngster the race team are separated and the partners practice the roundabout system for the early races and recouple them again after the second National race in order to achieve the desired nest position for the Tarbes Grand National. Mike likes their hens sitting 8 days for the race as the ideal nest position with cocks chasing the hen whilst also looking after a big youngster and the timing of their system means the cocks will be in their best position for the final old bird National race of the season.
Training has become almost impossible in the area due to Peregrine strikes so the federation races have become vital in order to prepare the birds for the Nationals. Mike commented that years ago, before cars were so prevalent, no one trained before club racing anyway and after many years of burning rubber on the Devon Expressway to win a race, most are reverting back with many lofts having injured pigeons to nurse back to health after regular Peregrine strikes during road training. Last season Mike gave the young birds just one training toss from 14 miles then straight into a fed race of 115 miles and they tumbled in, so it proved to him that they do not need to be taught the way home and be constantly at risk of attack. Patience and loft training are the only options in Plymouth these days so the has to reflect this.
Their biggest satisfaction is in the taking care of the pigeons, seeing their system and dedication coming to fruition with the condition of the birds, then a sigh of relief once they are in the race baskets before settling down to await their return.
Mike and Robbie have great ambitions for Tarbes and in recent years they have been building a team to compete in this race, so they see this win as a huge bonus and really appreciated the champagne reception they received from their fellow club members who were genuinely pleased for their success. They have also been overwhelmed by the many calls of congratulations from their many friends within the sport and have asked me to convey their gratitude.