The air temperature was 21 degrees and humidity 74%. There were variable winds on route but mainly south so although the forecast was for much higher temperatures later in the day, it was felt that the southerly winds would assist the 2700 birds taking part. The National Flying Club had also agreed to convoy the Central Southern Classic and the British Barcelona Club with a joint liberation, and as Mr Ian Evans, Chief Executive of the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, is very keen to encourage more joint liberations in future, he and the RPRA Development Officer, Richard Chambers decided to award £1000 to the race, split equally over three distance zones, with the title of “Pau Masters” being awarded to the joint overall winner.
Recording a winning velocity of 1144 yard per minute, Mark Gilbert is now the undisputed holder of this title, as his recent record breaking performances at marathon races has been nothing short of outstanding and now he can add the National Flying Club Pau Grand National to add to his list of achievements, along with the added bonus of RPRA UK Masters winner of the joint liberation of three major clubs. It is no secret that Mark has set himself the goal of winning the Barcelona International, which is 716 miles to his loft in Windsor and as an aid for selecting his 2021 team, he decided to send 50 yearlings bred out of his very best marathon bloodlines to the National Flying Club Grand National from Pau, 562 miles, which is considered by all his peers to be the very best race in the UK to win. This is rarely an easy race and it would help to identify his future Barcelona candidates, plus it has been a life long dream for Mark to win the NFC Pau Grand National and with the Covid 19 restrictions earlier in the year, circumstances meant that the Barcelona International race would take place on the same day, so to compete in both of the very best long distance races in the UK and Europe was certainly a day to look forward to.
The high temperatures the pigeons experienced during the race took its toll on the entry of 2700b and after 13 hours 47 minutes, just one brave pigeon appeared on the leader board for the 2018 Tarbes Grand National loft of Wearn Bros & Neilson flying 531 miles. Just under an hour later Mark saw a pigeon approaching from the south which flew straight to the trap in the fading light, to record a time of 14 hours 25 minutes flying 562 miles on the hottest day of the year so far and still just a yearling, bred for the task and acquired from a fortuitous misunderstanding.
A couple of years ago Mark had asked a friend in Holland to try to acquire young birds from a fancier called Cees Van Heartem in Terborg, who he had noticed had been putting up some very good Barcelona performances. In 2017 the race was arduous, and he achieved 7th and 12th International so Mark wanted to buy youngsters out of those very pigeons, his friend made contact and a price was agreed. When the youngsters were ready and the payment due, Mark questioned that they were indeed out of the seventh and twelfth international pigeons “No” came the reply “Cees van der Laan had third and fifth International”. He had gone to the wrong fancier, there had been a misunderstanding and they were not from the birds Mark had wanted. He was then presented with a dilemma and as his agent had taken delivery of the two youngsters, he decided to buy them to save any future problems and they were put into the breeding loft, paired together with only one pair of youngsters taken from them to race. Now named “Southfield King” the Pau Grand National winner is one of those youngsters.
The Barcelona International was also liberated on the 31st July and again due to the heat, no birds were recorded at all in Europe on the day, but on the second day Mark did get one, winning first Open BICC and 128th International.
“Well done Mark Gilbert” on winning the Pau Grand National and the Barcelona UK National on the same day with “Southfield King” and “Southfield Gold Lady”, there is only one dream left for you now and you certainly know how to make your dreams come true. “Grand Master” comes to mind and at the time of writing this article, Mark has 14 of his yearlings on the result and a further 6 had returned to my knowledge giving him a very promising prospect for the Barcelona International 2021.