De Graeve Antoine, "The King of speed"

Antoine + wife Christiane with their 'Trophy' for 1° National Ace pigeon
+ the Photo of BLUE CHAMPAGNE

1st National Ace pigeon Sprint KBDB 2007

It gives us great pleasure when someone from our own village can stand at the top place on the 'National podium' in Oostende during the 'National days of the KBDB', and that we can stay in our own village to interview a 'National Champion', and can visit someone where you know all the ins and outs of his colony like the back of our hands. We were allowed to stay in our own Waarschoot, a regional municipality of Meetjesland next to Eeklo and a stone's throw from Gent, also known as the 'salami village', even though it used to be well known for its textile industry. We dismounted on the Oostmoer… where our roots lie, that is to say where our father and grandparents lived… by one of the all time greatest sprint specialist of the region, sport friend Antoine De Graeve. The word 'specialist' is definitely appropriate. When, as young lads, we first entered the world of pigeon racing at the end of the seventies, a certain Antoine De Graeve was the 'man to beat' in the sprint, together with late father Irené and close neighbour, the late Andre Claeys. These men bantered with each other week in week out for the 1st prizes, large stakes and good series. Nearly thirty years later and Antoine De Graeve is still the 'NR 1' of the region in the sprint. The local sprint races that have been so successful for years have had to change into racing in a larger union, that is to say the union North-Meetjesland where sport friend Antoine holds sway every week. The larger radius and surrounding districts meant more competition, but this was no problem for the modern Antoine De Graeve-pigeons, because they remained well above the competitors! Nothing or nobody could 'take hold' of the supremacy of this colony, let alone break through it.

A life long at the top

When we bought our first sack of pigeon food from Antoine in 1978 - Antoine is now a retired grain and flour handler - he made a sweeping statement, saying: the first time that I end a season owing money, I'll get rid of all my pigeons! We are now nearly 30 years later and sport friend Antoine is still here, he can count the 'less successful seasons' on two fingers… now 'less successful'… we know many fanciers who would be 'very content' if they could experience such a 'less successful season' in their lofts, because even then he belonged to the best out of the region. By the 'Circle of friends from the Meetjesland' he ended with 1st + 2nd nominated in the championships (over 12 races, and 1 race per weekend) in the period 1999-2006 no less than 3 x as 1st Champion and 2 x as 2nd Champion, and ended this year once again as 2nd Champion Sprint 'Meetjesland' 2007, and achieved the title 1st Ace pigeon Sprint, and this against all the sprint racers from the 40 municipalities of Meetjesland! It's a pity that Antoine never considered entering his results for the 'provincial' and 'national' championships, because we think it wouldn't have been the first time that Antoine would be allowed to stand at the highest place on the podium. It was thanks to the 'buyer' of his pigeon, who urged Antoine to enter the performances of his 'BLUE CHAMPAGNE', that he went to Oostende at the end of November as the winner of the
1st National Ace pigeon Sprint KBDB 2007!

Antoine with his best yearling 2007, the WITPEN 102/06,
More over full brother of BLUE CHAMPAGNE,
1° Nat Ace pigeon Sprint KBDB 2007

This super crack won this prestigious title with the following 8 top results:
BLUE CHAMPAGNE, ring B04-4367234 won:
01/4 Arras 738 p 6th
08/4 Arras 1.085 p 2nd
15/4 Clermont 877 p 1st
22/4 Clermont 1.277 p 2nd
29/4 Clermont 1.108 p 1st
06/5 Clermont 472 p 1st
20/5 Clermont 313 p 3rd
03/6 Clermont 301 p 1st

Pedigree : Click here

Over the eight compulsory races this 'sprint devil' achieved a magnificent coefficient of 2,86%, according to our sources this has never happened before in the history of the 'national ace pigeon sprint'! With this he beat Marc Capelle from Baudour (4,14%), and fellow villagers Ivan Vanloffelt (4,31%) and Ludo Panis (4,31%), both from Diepenbeek. In the division KBDB Oost-Vlaanderen (East Flanders) Antoine won with this 'super crack' the 1st Prov Ace pigeon Sprint Old (with 1.089% over 6 races) and the 'Grand Sprint prize'!

That Antoine remains humble is proved when he says he was lucky with the good weather in April 2007. Clear blue skies, no wind or a light head wind, are the ideal weather situations for the De Graeve racing-team, and especially for BLUE CHAMPAGNE. In these weather conditions this 'super crack' doesn't tolerate any competition, and beat everything and everybody every week. When he changed from owner at the beginning of June, we were lucky enough to be able to handle him the following day. It was a streamlined pigeon, not large, but with vibrating chest muscles, an exceptionally supple wing and with a noticeable 'expression' on his face...
His fiery white eyes were just like bullets which without doubt betrayed his cleverness! Antoine himself says that he was not only lucky (!?) with the ideal weather conditions for his pigeons, but the fact that he still clocks the pigeons manually was of overriding importance, because this factor was definitely to his advantage… after all, his 'latere Asduif' returned home at the same time as his younger brother 3 times and once with his half-brother. Antoine nominated his BLUE CHAMPAGNE first, and logically 'with the most euros after his name' he clocked him first, something which could have been very different with electronic clocking, because whichever pigeon lands first is first registered. This 1st National Ace pigeon Sprint KBDB doesn't get it from a stranger.

His father is the 'BLEKE' 4334482/98, self a real super with 12 x 1st Prize after his name, and descending from a crossing Gebr De Baere (the old basis of the De Graeve colony) x Romain Legiest (who Antoine obtained via fellow villager Clara Devuyst, whose father and father-in-law were excellent sprinters with direct Legiest pigeons).
The mother is the '405-hen 4227405/03 from a crossing Gebr De Baere (read: old stock) x Maurice Mattheeuws. Apart from BLUE CHAMPAGNE Antoine had in 2007 from this first-rate breeding couple 2 extra yearlings, who achieved the following:

-'The 102' ring 4205102/06 won: Clermont 320 p 1, Clermont 607 p 2, Clermont 1.277 p 3, Clermont 472 p 2 (behind Blue Champ), Clermont 181 p 3, Clermont 327 p 4, Clermont 190 p 5, Arras 523 p 10 etc…
-'The 140' ring 4205140/06 won: Clermont 604 p 2, Clermont 1.277 p 3, Clermont 607 p 3, Clermont 1.108 p 4, Clermont 190 p 3, Clermont 301 p 5, Arras 153 p 10, Arras 523 p 23 etc.
- A half-brother 'the 108' ring 4205108/06 achieved the following: Arras 523 p 2, Clermont 320 p 2 (behind 'The 102'), Arras 1.085 p 3, Clermont 472 p 4, Clermont 327 p 5, Clermont 181 p 5, Clermont 131 p 6, Clermont 604 p 11, Clermont 877 p 16 etc…

A super trio of yearlings who will without doubt 'leave their mark' in the region of Meetjesland during the next few seasons, and who knows, they may even follow in the footsteps of their famous brother. In any case the future looks certain. There is no denying that Antoine De Graeve is a 'born' sprint racer and we will demonstrate this with the 'marvellous series' of stunt performances from 2007 (up until the bird flu, when Antoine stopped racing with old pigeons):
08/4 Arras 1.085 old 2,3,13,17,26,31,38,53,57,202 (14)
Arras 523 yearlings 2,7,10,15,23 (6)
15/4 Arras 568 old 1,7(with 1+2),8,18,146,168 (8)
Arras 380 yearlings 1,7,97 (4)
15/4 Clermont 877 old 1,3(with 1+2),5,12,16,28,69,281 (8)
Clermont 327 yearlings 4,5(with 1+2),90 (3)
22/4 Clermont 1.277 old 2,3,6,25,34,96,124 (9)
Clermont 604 yearlings 2,11,42 (4)
29/4 Clermont 1.108 old 1,3,4,75,92,105,162,248 (8)
Clermont 607 yearlings 2,3,47,75 (4)
06/5 Clermont 472 old 1,2,4(with 1+3+2),7… and 8 op 12 per 3
Clermont 320 yearlings 1,2(with 1+2),4,49,61,69,90 (8)
20/5 Clermont 313 old 3,4,6 (with 1+3+2),7,27,36,49 (10)
Clermont 181 yearlings 3,5(with 1+2),20 (5)
03/6 Clermont 301 old 1,2,5,8(1+2),10,13,16,54,57,68,73 (12)
Clermont 190 yearlings 1,3,5,6,31,42 (6) 17/6
Clermont 270 old 1,26,46,79… and 5 from the 10

Sublime performances from the 'De Graeve-pigeon' that illustrate perfectly, and the above results prove that 'Clermont' (more than 216 km) is the favourite race for Antoine!

How a ball can roll
That the discovery of 'good pigeons' is sometimes due to chance has been proved by Antoine De Graeve. During his time as a grain handler Antoine came in contact with the successful colony from Gebr De Baere from Nokere. When, one day, Antoine went to collect mix from the house of Gustje De Baere, a car from a German sport friend was just leaving. When Antoine cautiously asked Gust if he had done 'good business', he replied… yes, but they had not taken the 'best pigeon' and you can have him. By the time Antoine had loaded up and was ready to leave for home Gust had placed a cardboard box containing the 'best pigeon' in his lorry. When Antoine returned home and showed his father Irené the box containing the pigeon, the consternation was huge. It contained a youngster, whose head had been totally pecked, a real 'martyr' in a true sense of the word. No wonder the German fanciers left him behind. But… it was still a son of the famous 'Plastron', the best Long Distance pigeon of Gebr De Baere. The pigeon recovered and on the advice of Gust was placed directly into the breeding loft. The first year it produced nothing of worth, and at the end of the season all the youngsters were killed! The following year, exactly the same, once more everything was got rid of… until one day Gust De Baere visited Antoine, and Antoine told him his story. Gust said that he shouldn't get rid of the pigeon… and he even advised him to give the young cocks a chance as yearlings and old pigeons. And this is when the metamorphose took place… because once these yearlings were placed in widowhood, these 'good for nothing' pigeons raced as youngsters as though their lives depended on it, with numerous 1st prizes and top performances. The basis was laid for the current success story and when today Antoine mentions the name Gebr De Baere in his pedigrees it is still the old stock pigeon from the famous 'Plastron' from Gebr De Baere that lies at the base… yes, even by the BLEKE 482/98 and his now famous son 'BLUE CHAMPAGNE'! How a ball can roll!

How does he do it?
This is without doubt the question that is on the tip of everybody's tongues. Antoine was fed the 'pigeon microbe' at an early age, from father to son. The old basis stemmed from pigeons from Gebr De Baere from Nokere which were bought in the sixties, and topped up in the seventies with pigeons from Maurice De Sutter from Lembeke (now Eeklo).
In the eighties pigeons directly from Romain Legiest from Oostakker (via Clara De Vuyst) and Maurice Mattheeuws from St-Kruis-Brugge (via his brother Gentiel) fortified the stock!

The 'BLEKE' 482/98 (father 1st Nat Ace pigeon) and his half-brother 'DE 317' ring 4260317/00 (both have the same mother) are at this moment the best 2 breeders in the breeding loft. Antoine is not really an early breeder, and still waits until the days are longer (around Christmas) before coupling his pigeons. Experience has taught Antoine that early youngsters paired before the 1st of January can complete the season. The coupling is determined by the performances (good x good… or should we say 'super x super'), and only after this is the pedigree studied! Now, seeing that Antoine only has a few pigeons it is not surprising that he sometimes quickly becomes 'stuck' when coupling… although in principle it never becomes closer than nephew x niece, although he once had a 'super breeding hen' who came from a coupling 'father x daughter'. Normally the breeding pigeons raise 3 rounds of youngsters. The racing pigeons (maximum 15 to 18 at the start of the season) are allowed to raise a youngster in the spring. They are usually coupled in the period 10th to the 15th of January, and raise a youngster. When they once again start to chase after their hens the hens are removed so that no eggs are laid… the cocks raise their young alone, and remain separated until the 20th of March. They are then coupled again and breed for 8 days. Weather permitting, the training is then started, and they generally do their first race from Arras (1st weekend of April) with eggs, which are removed when they return home, and then the widowhood begins.

The widowers then race 2 x Arras and in the middle of April they are entered for Antoine's favourite Clermont races, and this until the middle of July when the last Clermont is raced with old pigeons. Antoine always shows the hens before they leave, sometimes only for a minute, but it is a fixed ritual. He likes to see 'fiery' hens because according to him the hens are the most important factor in widowhood races (with cocks) in influencing the performance of their partners! At the beginning of the season the pigeons stay together for only half an hour, and this is extended to an hour as the season progresses… unless it is a bad race, then it can sometimes be longer.

The daily training (with closed windows) is a barometer of the condition of the racing team. During their training they are only allowed to land on the roof twice and have to take flight again as soon as possible… they have to walk on their 'tiptoes' as we say in pigeon sport jargon. You should ask the fellow fanciers from the Oostmoer… they know what to expect on Sunday when they see the De Graeve pigeons doing their weekly training over their lofts during the week! But…once the pigeons see Antoine they know their training is finished and race like idiots through the open windows into the lofts. Something which is repeated on Sunday when the pigeons fall like stones out of the sky… through the open window and sometimes you can't even see what plumage they have. When they return home there is tea with honey waiting for them in the drinking bowl and once the hens are removed they are given enough, but not too much, depurative mix. According to Antoine you have to sense the amount yourself and it can not only vary from pigeon to pigeon, but can also depend on the weather conditions (read: cold or warm).

On Mondays the menu also consists of depurative mix (with brewer's yeast and garlic oil), and on Tuesday corn is added. On the Thursday evening they are given sport mix for the first time, in combination with depurative, and the corn is used to judge whether they have had 'enough' and multivitamins are given in the drinking water. On Fridays 100% sport mixture, but it is preferable that they eat everything. They are sometimes given a few grains on a Saturday, depending on the weather forecast. Antoine is afraid that his sprint pigeons are fed too much… after all, every gram extra fat that they carry they have to pay for on the Sunday! He explains further: I like to see that they are well fed, but never heavy! Pigeons that only race 200 Km every week don't need heavy feed. Something which is also applicable to youngsters. Antoine doesn't use lighting or darkening with these pigeons.

Antoine has never had more than 15 to 18 widowers his whole life. According to him this is the basis of his successes for years. Keeping close control is the only way to reach the top and stay there for years. This is where a lot of people go wrong. They manage a top year and then think that all their pigeons are 'good'. They don't select, hardly ever get rid of a pigeon and keep everything… stuff their boxes with yearlings, in the worst cases they build more boxes… or even a new loft! Result the next year: nothing! Overpopulation in the lofts (read: not enough oxygen) and too many pigeons (read: more pigeons than they can handle)! Antoine has 3 lofts for his racing pigeons with 3 boxes above each other… pigeons 'never' sit in the lowest boxes! And medically Antoine? You know that the people are very curious, and think that top champions have secrets on this level? Yes, I know about that he nods … I hear enough about it at the club, usually behind my back: what do you think he gives his pigeons? They are idiots, but what can you do? Look… at the end of November there is a visit made to the vet, but there is usually nothing wrong. The pigeons are given a five day cure for tricho. At the end of March a dropping monster from the racing pigeons is taken to the vet. If the diagnosis is negative then nothing further is done! This was the reason that the pigeons haven't even been given a tricho cure during the season for the last two years. Pigeons with a light contagion are, according to Antoine, are still capable of winning 1st prizes. He thinks that it is more important that the pigeons have enough oxygen, meaning large lofts with only a few pigeons in them… the reason why is explained above.

According to Antoine people search to much. The only thing that counts is 'good pigeons'! He also likes to see a pigeon with a soft plumage, a glassy, fiery eye… but the real expert is 'the basket'! His pigeons must, as widower, be able to win 6 or 7 times per 10, where from no less than 3 or 4 times very early. Antoine has a sort that easily race 1st prizes… and that is what counts in the pigeon sport! Preferably 4 real good pigeons in the racing loft than 20 prize racers! All his performances as a youngster are not really of overriding importance, but they are as a yearling! One thing Antoine wanted to share with us: when he went to buy his first pigeons from Gust De Baere in the sixties, he gave him a golden tip: 'never' spend one franc on an inspector, but be an inspector of your own loft, because nobody knows your pigeons better than yourself. The origin, the character, and most importantly the health and the achieved performances! Who knows them better than the own loft's fancier! There's no flaw in the arguments… because they come from a professional who has for nearly forty years running belonged to the 'very top' of the sprint. A man that can't be competed with, and who now, with the achievement of the 1st National Ace pigeon Sprint KBDB 2007, has the absolute crown of his successful career! His name: Antoine De Graeve from Waarschoot, rightly known as 'the King of Speed!'