From Africa to Ackworth - Brian & Mavis Clayburn - The 2009 Sun City Million Race Winners

When I sat in the Superbowl in Sun City watching the 13th Sun City Million Dollar Race, I with hundreds of other fanciers worldwide witnessed a blue pigeon trap like a good one. Everyone with a blue barred pigeon in the race held their breath for a few seconds, which must have felt like hours.



Then a second blue went through the trap. Suddenly two Union Jacks were emblazed on the giant screen. Not only were Great Britain 1st, but incredibly in 2nd place also, then the name Mr & Mrs Clayburn stood out like a beacon. This really hit home to me as I have known Brian Clayburn for many years, in fact my best pigeons came from Brian’s loft over 20 years ago.
As we Brits danced a jig of delight, I was also chiding myself for not putting a few rand on the Clayburn pigeon which I had noticed as I put my wagers on a couple of my friends entries. I had resisted the temptation purely on the grounds of being too idle to re-write my entry slip.
When I spoke to Brian a minute or so later, I could tell he was also in shock as ‘East of Eden’, his only bird in the race, had made Brian and Mavis over $200,000 the richer. I congratulated Brian and promised to visit him and this is the result of my trip up Ackworth in West Yorkshire.
In the cold light of day, it should have been no real surprise to see Brian and his wife win the most prestigious race in the world because like his bird, Brian Clayburn has the right pedigree. Born and raised in West Yorkshire, I will let Brian explain. “Where I was brought up, there were roughly 80 coal mines and around these collieries were many small towns and villages. Everyone of these villages had at least one and often two pigeon clubs which resulted in up to 50,000 birds competing on a weekly basis flying into this area in several Federations.”
So it is quite clear to see that the competition like the coal which they mined and burned was ‘red hot’. Brian was always a competitive fancier and was always looking for the very best racing bloodlines. He read and he looked and decided that he must visit Belgium, the famous ‘cradle’ of the pigeon sport. Brian made some wise purchases and soon the Clayburn’s were proving hard to beat, so hard in fact that many of the local clubs disbanded and reformed with an altered radius, cutting Brian and Mavis out. This is the price of success. Everyone prefers a loser, exclusion often being the reward of success.
Having had some excellent wins at the middle distance races already, including the Catteralls Nantes race with more than 28,000 birds competing at a distance of 442 miles. With a Delbar pigeon from stock obtained from David McNeilly of Ireland. “Those were good birds,” said Brian, “I bought four pairs and raced seven young ones off them and five topped the Federation! They were good pigeons”. As he thought back in time, Brian continued, “I always liked the pigeon which was later to win the Catterall Classic race and put a marker ring on him and he didn’t disappoint, with his first race he was 3rd Club, 7th Federation. The following week he caught a bad race and the bird failed to come home. The next time I saw him was two days before Christmas as I was bending feeding the birds, he shot over my head right onto a perch. I knew it was him because he still had his rubber and his marker ring on. Goodness knows where he had been but I could see that he had had a good moult and looked well. The next season he won 1st Federation from Leicester as a yearling then amongst other wins, won the Nantes Race – he was a nice Christmas present,” laughed Brian.
As it was obvious that the local clubs did not wish to fly with Mr & Mrs Clayburn, they decided to concentrate on the longer distances into France.
In the ’80s and ’90s, I don’t think anyone visited Belgium more often than Brian. Often accompanied by Les Stuckey and Harry Austerberry, who also enjoyed the fruits of Brian’s studies and labours. Many readers will probably not know it but Brian Clayburn was the first British fancier to visit and purchase birds from a man who has gone on to become a worldwide legend. That man was Jos Soontjen. I asked Brian how he came across Jos, “Well I studied the Belgian papers and kept reading about a J Soontjen, who was winning out of his turn in the Sunday morning races. So I managed to contact him to arrange a visit.
The day before I was at the loft of William Geerts, who at the time was murdering the Antwerp Union and who I had become a good friend of and I got some fine birds off over the years. William asked me who else I was planning to see? Now I was a little hesitant to tell him because often in the past he had asked me why I wasted my time and money on birds that were not as good as his? On this occasion he said ‘you must go there, he has super birds!’ I was a little surprised and William then told me a story. ‘Not so long ago after hearing about Soontjens results,
I drove over to a port which overlooked Soontjen’s loft one Sunday morning. There was a race with 2,800 entries, so I sat and waited to see for myself these Soontjen pigeons come home. Suddenly five birds came racing up as Soontjen was sitting rolling himself a cigarette. All five dived into the loft and do you know what Soontjen did?’ asked William, ‘I replied, I suppose he clocked them?’ ‘Yes that's right, but not before he had taken out his lighter and lit his cigarette!’ Soontjen took the first five positions that day against very strong opposition, so you are right to go there!”
The wisdom of Geerts words have been well chronicled later with many fantastic results being put up with Jos Soontjen’s pigeons. Shortly after Jos sold his land for building and his fantastic birds were sold. I am told that Jos is still alive but does not keep pigeons anymore.
Back to Brian though and he has been if not the first, then amongst the first people to notice many world famed fanciers  Willie Van Berendong, Serge Van Elsacker and the Dutch champion Theo Hartog, all these fanciers have been visited and their very best bloodlines acquired. Brian told me with a very serious look on his face, “Only buy from their best pigeons, that is what I have always done if their best were not for sale or had been already ordered, then I always said thanks but no thanks. Often they were expensive but the results which we have had and other fanciers have had with our pigeons proves that I was right.”
When you talk to Brian, he is a mine of good information and anecdotes. He chuckled as he recalled quarantining his first Soontjen imports, as Brian had a quarantine station on his property as all imported birds in those days had to go into quarantine. In with them was a couple of pigeons from Serge Van Elsacker and a young cook off Serge’s base pigeon, ‘The 23’, paired to a blue hen which was sister to the cock which later became known as Brian’s red ring Soontjen cock, Well this pair reared two babies in a corner amongst some shavings. Brian put a couple of old rings on the babies and Harry Austerberry got these two bonus pigeons and they both simply churned winners galore out. I commented, ‘perhaps you should have kept them for yourself Bri.’ Brian just shrugged his shoulders and smiled.
While Brian was fetching his pedigree books, Mavis told me, “I bet he won’t tell you about how I often used to beat him when I had my own loft of pigeons, I got some real good wins including winning a Massarella sponsored television. He was ‘sick as a pig’ when I won the telly” she laughed. To be honest I was well aware that Mavis was not only a good lady fancier, but also a good secretary being at the helm of both Federation and the Northern Classic I believe. They always say behind every successful man is a good woman and though sadly Mavis is now housebound, she still helps when she can, in fact recently Brian bought the birds in the front door, so Mavis could inject them against paramyxo, Mavis you are a star.
As we sat and discussed Brian's various new introductions because Brian still tries and usually succeeds in bringing the best that he can buy. His current families are his ‘old’ blood, which are Soontjen and Van Loon with introductions from Cees Schroeders who is well known for his ‘Rocky’ bloodlines and the De Laere pigeons. In fact Brian and Mavis have children from Maurice and Lue De Laere’s fantastic middle distance ace ‘De Tieke’, which I know would come with a high price tag, but Brian always sticks to his principle of only the best being good enough.
On the Clayburn lofts is also the blood of the ‘Fenomenal’ of Herbots Brothers. As we talked about Herbots pigeons, Brian told me that the world renowned Soontjen based cock, ‘The 155’, is closely related to his red and black ring cocks, being if I am understanding it correctly, both being cousins to ‘155’. So is it any wonder that the pigeons from their Ackworth lofts are so successful?

I mischievously tired to put my host on the spot by asking him which were his best introductions? He quickly replied, the pigeons from Jules Smit who flew with his wife Maria as Smit-Van Winckel. This was music to my ears, as these were the birds that I got off the Clayburns twenty odd years ago and once again they were my very best birds, at one time I had 16 cocks of which 15 had won 1st prizes and nine of them being 1st Federation winners. The only one which had not won was a yearling which won later as a two year old. I only write this by the way of testimony to the quality of Brian's pigeons. I only wish I still had them on my loft today, but there is ‘no fool like an old fool’ and I bringing concentrated more on bringing in what I believed to be better able cross Channel pigeons - what a mistake.
Brian’s most famous Smits-Van Winckel cocks were ‘Thimbles’ which won 10x1st prizes Inland by the time he was two years old and ‘Jules’ and it was this cock that had no fear of the Channel, winning 36 positions in races up to Nantes, 442 miles. In fact at Nantes, ‘Jules’ won 1st Club three years on the trot and 2nd and 2x4th Federations. What a pigeon.
I had the ‘Thimbles’ lines and mistakenly believed that the coast was their limit, Brian said, “To be honest, I did not fully appreciate myself just how good they were. I brought in a total of ten birds off Jules best pigeons and nine of them bred me winners including the parents of ‘Thimbles’ and ‘Jules’, super birds.”
After reading of the calibre of stock which is housed at the Clayburn’s loft, it is very evident that Brian and Mavis have bloodlines equal to any loft worldwide, pure ‘quality street’.
At this point I would like to talk a little about the Clayburn’s results. The Midlands Nationals North East Section has been won on two occasions which if you look at the geographic location is exceptional flying being in the West of their section. One of these 1st Section winners is ‘King William’, who was 1st Section from 3,116 birds and 29th Open from 7,198 birds flying 295 miles in a north east wind, his velocity was 1066ypm, hence his name as that was the year when William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings when he routed Harold’s army. This pigeon is the father of Brian and Mavis’ ‘East of Eden’, the Sun City winner.
The dam of this history maker for being the 1st Million Dollar UK winning bird was what Brian describes as his best ever racing pigeon, named ‘Rachel’ after his daughter. One look at her racing CV, its easy to see why the Clayburn’s rate her so highly. As a young bird she injured herself in training, so had no racing but only trained  up to 30 or so miles, but Brian wanted to keep only proven birds, so with no Inland racing she was sent to Picauville. Which Brian admitted was really unfair but she shot home to win 2nd Federation against 677 birds with a velocity of 1685ypm. Proving herself worthy of a perch. As a yearling racing with the Midlands National FC, she won 21st Section, 345th Open against 8,786 birds at 332 miles from Falaise and then won 36th Section, 119th Open from Le Ferte Bernard beating over 6,500 birds.
When she was two years old, she won 75th Open MNFC from Falaise and the following year won 1st Section, 12th Open from 789 birds, then 8th Section, 22nd Open against 730 pigeons. The following year, ‘Rachel’ as a four year old was prepared for the National Flying Club’s 367 miles race flown from Fourges when she didn’t disappoint, winning 1st Lancashire & Yorkshire 4Bird, 167 birds, 1st 700 Mile Club, 298 birds and 2nd Section, 7th Open NFC from a field of 6,726 birds. In her racing career ‘Rachel’ won nearly £5,000, a real champion racing pigeon. ‘Rachel’s’ breeding is Soontjen x Van Loon. While ‘King William’, he mate and sire of ‘East of Eden’ is of predominately Soontjen bloodlines also.
My next question to Brian was how do you select your entries for the Sun City Million Dollar race, bearing in mind that Brian and Mavis have previously been successful in other Sun City Hot Spot races also. With candid honesty, Brian said, “Yes in 2008, we flew very well in the Hot Spot races, but we were disappointed in the final 343 mile race. So for 2009 we sent birds which we felt would be capable of succeeding at the final event because that was the race we wanted to win – the big one”. I pressed Brian a little further and he explained, “We sent only pigeons off birds which are capable of winning races at low velocities as we noticed that most Sun City final races are won with a 1000-1400ypm velocity.” Mavis added, “If it had been a blow home we would not have been any good. It had to be a hard race for our birds”. How right they were when ‘East of Eden’ their game blue cock won 1st Sun City and $209,000.
Pieter Oberholster, who is a UK agent for the race, asked Brian a few questions relating to the Sun City race and who better to interview than the winner. Pieter asked when was ‘East of Eden’ bred? and Brian’s answer was early February, three months before shipping. Brian explained, we selected three pairs on their pedigree and racing criteria, ie ability to win at low velocities as previously explained. The resulting youngsters were then kept in an aviary until the shipping date.
Pieter enquired, “Did you fly these birds out during this period as many people seem to do?” “No they never went out of the aviary” was Brian’s reply. “They were given a weekly bath and vaccinated against paramyxo and that was it,” continued Brian. “How were they fed?” Piet asked, “The same mixture that I have used for years which is two parts peas, two parts red dari, one part wheat and one part P40 pellets, which are expensive but I like and as they grow I put a pot in the box to which I put peas so the birds learn to eat peas early in life as I don’t like them picking only the little seeds as they don’t develop properly this way” was Brian’s reply. “I also use three products with this mix which are from Norban. These products are added to the corn which has been moistened with either Greek natural yogurt for five days per week or virgin olive oil for the other two days.”
I found out from Norban that the products which Brian calls the brown and white powders and the herb mix were Bio-mate which is a probiotic product and the brown powder is called bio-enhance, which is a prebiotic and that the herb mix is a product which Norban call ‘awesome’. This I was told is an excellent health giving additive which also contains herbs which have  anti canker and coccidiosis properties. Brian confided that these are excellent products which he has used since they were first made available to him. I believe that Brian is one of Norban’s ‘test teams’, that's why Brian refers to them only as the white and brown powders.
I asked Brian how many birds do the partners race and was told 27 Widowhood cocks and 18 pairs of Roundabout pigeons. This is considered necessary to cope with the long distance programmes of several big organisations including the Midlands National Flying Club and the NFC.
I was very interested to be told that the Sun City race win was not the couples first taste of victory in International one loft racing as in 2007 one of their birds won 1st UK, 3rd Open in a race organised by the FCI in Belgium which, if I could read the writing on the trophy correctly, was 13th time that this race had taken place. So in view of the fact that Brian and Mavis had won the 13th Sun City Million Dollar race, that 13 is a very lucky number for the partners, although I know that they will be going flat out for victory in the 14th holding of these prestigious races as places have been booked for both events for 2010.
The FCI winner was in fact of very similar breeding to their Sun City champion. Being from a chequer cock called ‘My Mate’ and a blue pied hen named ‘Sheba’. ‘My Mate’ is a very prolific producer.
It was a real delight for me to visit Brian & Mavis Clayburn along with Pieter and his father in-law, Nev Proctor, who is also a previous winner of a Sun City Gold Medal for finishing in 9th place a couple of years ago. When I went to the 2009 race in Sun City, little did I ever imagine that later I would be visiting Ackworth in West Yorkshire to visit the owners and breeders of the winning bird. This victory has since showered Brian and Mavis in fame and glory along with their National and International successes.