Tarbes is a race of over five hundred miles to the shortest flyers on the English coast; with the distance and challenge of the terrain becoming increasingly difficult as the pigeons navigate further into the United Kingdom. These obstacles have not however dampened the enthusiasm of fanciers from the north of England who strive each year to achieve a good position in this race. The names of Gordon, Denney, Shackleton and Impett have all achieved considerable success from this race in years gone by. However in the 2013 race the partnership of Barry and Peter Winter was to reign victorious when they clocked their bird, Little Gem, to win the Tarbes Grand National at a staggering 728 miles!
A Father and Son Team
Peter and Barry Winter live in the small market town of Howden which is located in east Yorkshire, in the north of England. Peter has had pigeons for over 50 years, with the partnership being formed in its present state in 1977. The Winters have always excelled in the long distance races with early notable successes being 1st and 2nd Yorkshire federation from Clermont (334 miles) and 1st Yorkshire federation from Melun (400 miles).
Barry and Peter Winter
(Photo: Chris Sutton)
Racing from the north
Whilst the partnership has enjoyed considerable success racing from a southerly direction in recent seasons, they have been equally successful when racing the north route into Scotland. In 2002 for instance, the Winters won 13 out of the 20 races entered winning numerous club and federation awards. They recorded the first four pigeons in the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire North Road Combine on numerous occasions from in excess of 2,000 pigeons. That same year, Barry and Peter decided to pursue their racing on the south road. Having purchased a new house and erected the impressive loft set-up that is still used today, a new batch of youngsters were bred and settled and they joined a local south road organisation along with the Midlands National Flying Club. They enjoyed almost instant success winning 1st north east section, 6th open MNFC Tours in 2004. It soon became apparent however that if they were to pursue their dream of achieving consistent success at the long distance races then a new family of pigeons was required. Both Barry and Peter began scouring the Belgian, German and Dutch results searching for a consistent and high performing family of birds. During the winter of 2005 and after spending hours and hours evaluating performances they arrived at the name of Chris Hebberecht of Evergem, Belgium. A small number of birds were purchased to start a family; these being direct sons of Jelle, Pokemon, Gentlemen and Costello. They also acquired a few pigeons to cross into the Hebberecht pigeons with a hen gifted to them by Willems brothers when paired to a grandson of Jelle producing the Tarbes Grand National winner, Little Gem.
Little Gem. 1st National Flying Club Tarbes, 2013
(Photo: Chris Sutton)
The widowhood method
The Winters aim to start each racing season with a relatively small team of less than 32 cocks. In 2013, they decided to race a team of 16 widowhood hens taking the race team to 48 birds. The birds were paired in late February but the racing cocks were not allowed to rear youngsters. Whilst driving for the second round of eggs, training began. The hens were parted when sitting around eight days and the widowhood system started.
Club racing is used purely to train the birds however the Winter team of long distance pathfinders regularly achieve impressive results in these sprint and middle distance events. For the important races the cocks are allowed to spend longer with their mates and some are allowed to drive the hens and rear a young bird as an extra incentive to home. For Barry and Peter, it is all about studying and treating birds as individuals and trying to work out what motivates each bird. They believe that the single most important factor, other than the genetic make-up of the pigeon is to have birds that are comfortable with the fancier and at home in the loft. Long distance pigeons must be happy and content, developing that love for home and a desire to return is the fancier’s main priority.
Loft set-up of Barry and Peter Winter
(Photo: Chris Sutton)
The Tarbes Grand National race in 2011 was won by the outstanding chequer cock Pennine Heights who was bred and raced by Shackleton and Sons of Keighley, Yorkshire. Seven game birds were timed into the south of England on the day of liberation; one of these belonging to the overnight leader Mark Gilbert of Winkfield. Many thought that Mark would be impossible to beat, however at 08:12 on the second morning Pennine Heights was clocked at over 740 miles to win the first prize. In 2013 the pigeons were released at Tarbes at 16:15. Barry and Peter entered a team of just two pigeons; including their Little Gem who was 2nd section K, 14th Open Tarbes in 2012 when he covered the 728 miles in 19 hours 47 minutes. Mark Gilbert was again the early leader with his blue hen being timed at 14:57 on the second afternoon. As they sat waiting for their two entries Barry had calculated that they needed a bird by 19:14. He then put the calculator down and looked at his watch which showed 19:02, a flying time of 19 hours 57 minutes and just then Little Gem dropped onto the landing board and was clocked. At that point he knew that this bird would beat the current leader. When he verified the bird and saw it up loaded on the result the name of B and P Winter had replaced the previous winner at the top and there it remained for the rest of the race to allow them their place in the history of this great race. Between them, Pennine Heights and Little Gem had proved that lightning does strike twice.