Raoul & Xavier Verstraete (Oostakker, BE): 45 years of pigeon racing at the highest level

This success story began with the invaluable pigeon “Gouden Bol” in 1970, and this loft continues to achieve great results with a breed that is now based on Topstar and his son Xtra. Their recipe for success is breeding pigeons from outstanding prize winners and cracks.

These two pigeon fanciers have been top level players in Belgium for over 45 years, which is quite an unparalleled achievement. However, Raoul was initially expected to pursue a career in horseracing. Raoul turns 85 this year; he was born on 29th December 1930 in Nevele, as the son of a farmer.  His parents were hoping that Raoul would become a fancier as well but he had different ambitions. He showed an interest in sales and trading, and he started helping his godfather, who worked as a cattle trader. This is how he got involved in horse trading and horse racing in particular. However, he had also started to develop an interest in pigeon racing around that time.

It all begin in Oostakker

Raoul had taken over a grocery store in Oostakker with his wife Lucrèse, and several of his clients were pigeon fanciers. His favourite pub in Oostakker happened to be a pigeon club as well. It was there that he started to develop an interest in pigeons, while listening to the stories of other fanciers every weekend.
Raoul is known to be an ambitious man; he wants to get the most out of everything he does. His background in sales and his experience in horse racing were valuable assets in pigeon racing as well. It was there that he learned that only one thing truly matters: top quality. Raoul calls it the will to put in an effort, the will to win races. It is a talent that some pigeons get from their parents when they are born.

Raoul was determined only to breed pigeons from talented prize winners. The pigeon club in Oostakker organised a pigeon auction for one of the best fanciers from the region (Theuninck from St. Amandsberg), and Raoul purchased Theuninck’s very best hen: this hen was called Zus Witkop (BE67-4399767) and had won 11 first prizes. Raoul quickly managed to find a good partner for him: it was Oud Bolleke (BE61-4147061) of Mathijs-Kets from Lochristi, a top class pigeon and winner of 14 first prizes (including a 2nd Nat. London) in the sprint and the middle distance.

Oud Bolleke was paired to Zus Witkop, and it was the starting point of a brilliant career with many triumphs, including four national victories (he failed to win a 5th first prize because he did not clock the control ring in time), and many prominent championship titles: Raoul is multiple General Champion Belgian Entente and General Champion of Belgium KBDB!
Oud Bolleke x Zus Witkop soon gave birth to the loft’s first stock breeder: Gouden Bol BE70-4062007. One of his most famous sons is Mirage BE76-4545884 (a phenomenal first prize winner), which is in turn the sire of Triller BE79-4223381 (he became 1st Nat. Ace Pigeon long distance). Some other successful prize winners from that time are Meteor, De Zilveren, and Miljonair (he comes from Raoul but he became successful in the neighbouring loft of Tom Van Damme, where Raoul repurchased him).

The striking thing about this bloodline is the ease with which these pigeons are winning first prizes, often with a considerable lead. Raoul and Xavier have always been focusing on pigeons that were capable of winning first prizes with ease, especially when they were looking for new investments. Over the years they have been able to create a pigeon breed that is almost entirely based on such pigeons. Raoul and Xavier have showed over the past 45 years that prize winners are indeed bred from prize winners. It is thanks to this breeding strategy that the loft has been performing overwhelmingly strong: the Verstraete pigeons have been winning top prizes at the highest level for almost half a century.

From middle distance stars to national long distance champions

It is remarkable that Golden Bol continues to be an integral part of this breed up until today. He has been combined with the bloodlines of other superior prize winners and ace pigeons, including Elvis, the line of Panter (of Theo Gilbert), Victory, and more recently Uno (1st Prov. Ace Pigeon middle distance KBDB and winner of 1st nat. Bourges) and Admiral (of Desiré Acke). These pigeons enabled Raoul and his son Xavier to achieve great results worldwide, especially in the races of the (longer) middle distance. That does not mean the Verstraete pigeons were not suited for the long distance. Their long distance pigeons came from their good friend Robert Venus (the line of supercrack Gruson and Witslager Desender, 1st Nat. Ace Pigeon long distance KBDB), and also from Roger Florizoone (the line of Primus Inter Pares) later on. However, their achievements were often overshadowed by the impressive results in the middle distance.

It was Raoul’s son Xavier who suggested to start focusing more on the national classics. Their team of hens would continue to focus on the longer middle distance, while their cocks would be prepared for the long distance classics. It turned out that the Verstraete breed combined really well with the pigeons of fellow fancier Chris Hebberecht. The introduction of his Blauwe Kathy and Geschelpte Kathy proved a great success. For instance, Geschelpte Kathy became the dam of Topstar, which is the stock breeder for the current generation of long distance stars. However, we should not forget the importance of the two stock dams Gravin and Maxima (two daughters of a 2nd Nat. Dax) of Cas De Graaf from Arnemuiden either. Topstar became the sire of Xtra (1st Nat. Cahors), Kastaar and Bijou, and his bloodline can also be found in the pedigrees of the national winners of Etienne Meirlaen (1st Intnat. Narbonne 2010), Erik Limbourg (1st Intnat. Perpignan 2014) and Gaby Vandenabeele (1st Nat. Tulle 2014). These are all grandchildren of Topstar, which shows his potential.

How to achieve long term success

The success story in Oostakker is based on top class pigeons, prize winners and ace pigeons. The two fanciers have always been looking for birds with an exceptional talent that were destined to win first prizes. This is the type of pigeon that makes a pigeon loft successful. The goal has always been to breed new generations of prize winners. Raoul and Xavier agree that fanciers that fail to breed new champions will not make it very far. There is a lot of truth to that, although they admit that they have had some luck with the breeding potential of their pigeons: many of them proved truly exceptional breeders. Think for instance of Gouden Bol, Elvis and Uno, and their current stock breeders Topstar and Xtra.

Any fancier can consider himself lucky with such a collection of pigeons. Raoul thinks that such a top quality breed is likely to give prize winners season after season. It seems that many fancier still fail to appreciate the value of top quality pigeons, and instead focus on medicines and performance enhancing products. As in any sport, all that really matters is whether your pigeons have it or not. Any racing approach, diet or caretaking strategy will only be successful if your pigeons have the potential to win prizes. We assume almost anyone can name a fancier that suddenly fell through after a number of very successful seasons, despite using the same approach, diet, or medicines. The reason is simple: they did no longer have any prize winners in their collection.

The fanciers from Oostakker know what pigeon fancying is all about, and they know that talent is an innate quality. You can try and get the most out of your pigeons with training and caretaking, which is the most important job of the fancier. But you simply cannot expect just any pigeon to win a major race. You need to have a top quality pigeon with a lot of talent. This is why the two fanciers have always paid particular attention to the composition and the further development of their team of breeders. That is because the breeding loft is the foundation of your pigeon family: this is the place where talented newcomers are born!  Raoul and Xavier continue to breed pigeons from prize winners and ace pigeons, pigeons with a proven record capable of giving talented new generations. This is the recipe for success, as you can tell from their longstanding career in pigeon racing: they have been winning prizes for 45 years!

Worldwide success with pigeons of Verstraete

The Verstraete pigeons have had another splendid season in 2015, winning several first prizes and the title of 1st Champion long distance young birds 2015 in long distance club Ekeren. It shows that their breeding loft is still in top form, providing talented new young birds every year. In this article we have only included the best hen of 2015:

- Asduifke 2015 BE12-4140249

2nd Ace Pigeon light long distance 2015 Fondclub Lokeren
25th  Zone A2 Gueret          4,003 p. ’15
28th  Zone A2 Chateauroux I   5,418 p. ’15 (1. Lokaal 301 d.)
123rd Nat La Souterraine      4,161 p. ’15
204th Zone A2 Montluçon       2,686 p. ’15
677th Nat Argenton I         12,187 p. ’15
334th Zone A2 Bourges I       4,700 p. ’15
740th Zone A2 Chateauroux II  3,150 p. ’15

She has also won the following prizes:

35th  Zone Gueret             7,174 p. ’12
95th  Prov Bourges            2,635 p. ’13
254th Prov Chateauroux I      4,657 p. ’13
270th Nat Argenton           25,949 p. ’12
274th Zone Argenton           4,880 p. ’13

You can find the full pedigree of this top class hen here.

This ace pigeon title is the result of performing at a consistent level for seven weeks in a row, in which she won a prize in the first seven national races of 2015 (with 6 prizes per 10). This super class hen is a good example of a typical modern day Verstraete pigeon. Her pedigree is a combination of almost every successful middle distance bloodline of Verstraete (Panter-Admiral-Maxima-Solo-Elvis-Victory), and she is heavily based on the pigeon 'Uno'.

Raoul and Xavier agree that you can recognise a top class breed by its level of performance in other lofts. We talked about the recent (inter)national victories in Belgium earlier on, but this loft receives references from all across the globe on a daily basis. This is a selection of their most important references in 2014 and 2015:

- 1st Best pigeon from Tulle in Belgium 2012-2014 – over 3 seasons (supercrack Durango) for Geert and Annick Vanrenterghem (the dam is a hen of Verstraete; a granddaughter of Topstar)
- 1st Nat. Ace Pigeon middle distance and 2nd Nat. Ace Pigeon sprint 2015 Romania for Dulca Lulian-Boekarest (from a grandson of Topstar x Bolide). The Nat. Ace Pigeon middle distance won a 1/2619, 4/3299, 4/2002, 4/1769, 19/8993 and 41/6043 from Dubasari (339 Km).
- 1st Ace Pigeon Liaoning Pan Jin Zheng Ben One loft race (6,800 p.) of Xue Di Chemical (a grandchild of Bijou)
- 2nd Nat. Ace Pigeon middle distance 2015 Denmark (a grandson Uno-Figo)
- Olympiad Pigeon 2015 Budapest of Fr. Marchat-Austria (ring 301-12-1877)
- 1st Nat. Ipres UK open 4,500 p. 2015 of Robert Pugh (from Figuno x half sister Topstar)
- 1st Quiévrain 15,158 p. in 2015 for Lei Devries (NL) with Miss Uno NL15-121111
- Son Xtra is at the basis of two first prize winners of 2015 for Chris Hebberecht:
   The 11-260: 1st Brive and 8th Nat. 8,331 p., 1st Libourne and 38th Nat 5,024 p.
   The 14-189: 1st Libourne and 26th Nat 5,890 yearlings.
- 1st Ace Pigeon 2014 East Flanders Youth Club for Georg & Maxim Lannoo  (a direct son of Major)

Winning top prizes will always be the result of breeding good quality pigeons. A fancier that knows how to breed great pigeons every single season is likely to create a highly regarded pigeon family. Raoul and Xavier Verstraete have been doing this for no less than 45 years. They have been working hard, and they have been basketing a lot of pigeons to find out which were the most talented in their collection. After all, you can only discover top quality pigeons by looking at the results during the racing season. In this loft only the very best birds will get a place in the breeding loft. This has been the key to success for this loft, which has been at the top for 45 years. Congratulations!

Some of the best results of 2015

06/6: Chateauroux (500 Km) 301 olds: 1-18-33-39-42… (11/16)
06/6: Chateauroux 436 yearlings: 4-16-17-19-38-44… (14/25)
13/6: Cahors (750 Km) 131 olds: 3-15 (2/4)
13/6: Gueret 232 oude: 3-10-20-25-30-46… (8/10)
20/6: Limoges (646 Km) 149 yearlings: 17-19-24-33 (4/6)
20/6: Limoges 198 olds: 15-16-37-62-63 (5/11)
20/6: Montluçon 176 olds: 12-17-19-23-39-41-43-60 (8/10)
20/6: Montluçon 353 yearlings: 6-8-23-52 (4/11)
21/6: Noyon (177 Km) 358 young birds: 1-5-6-14-19-22-26-33-39…
29/6: Argenton 177 olds: 1-6-9-14-16-31-31-34 (8/9)
06/7: La Souterraine 58 olds: 1-4-8-15-20 (5/8)
11/7: Brive 218 yearlings: 8-13-14-18-19-20-23-28-40-45-46-56 (11/12)
18/7: Bourges (454 Km) 298 young birds: 2-3-11-44-51… (8/14)
25/7: Tulle (632 Km) 88 olds: 11-13-16-18-19 (5/10)
22/8: La Souterraine (563 Km) 198 young birds: 3-8-12-18-19… (7/19)
29/8: Issoudun (480 Km) 319 young birds: 7-11-16-23-77-84-98… (8/19)
06/9: Chateauroux 226 young birds: 3-8-24… (6/14)