Stafford & Wilson (Saltburn, UK) win the Queen's Cup from Burbure

In only their third season after re-starting racing Stafford and Wilson of Saltburn, UK have won the Queen's Cup, the highest achievement in the north-east of England's pigeon racing scene. In this article we hear about the preparation for the race and the weekend of the race itself.

Sparky Wilson (l), Pam Grange (Combine Secretary) and Ian Stafford with grandson Finn (r)

Ian Stafford could never have imagined winning the Queen's Cup.  Only four years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer, went through two years of chemotherapy, re-started with the pigeons in partnership with Mark Wilson and in only their third full season back they have won one of the highest accolades in pigeon racing in the north-east. A truely remarkable achievement.

Little Finn (photo courtesy of Peter Bennett)

The weekend of the race saw them racing from Oakham, 126 miles on Sunday.  In this race they had their twelve sprint hens and six sprint cocks, the whole sprint team.  They also sent a team of long distance birds destined for Bourges which is the longest race scheduled for two later. They got three of their Stefaan Lambrecht hens come together, they took half a turn and ended  up 2nd 3rd and 5th club, 2nd 3rd and 5th fed and 2nd 3rd and 5th section out of approximately 2,500 birds beaten by 2 seconds so it wasn't a bad result for the first race of the weekend. This showed the partners that the birds were in good form. The Queen's Cup race pigeons were held over on the Saturday, then again on the Sunday making everyone feel down, wondering if they would ever get a race from France. Monday morning dawned and Ian went on the live web-cams in Arras and Gravelines in France and there were blue skies that had not been forecast. However, the weather at Roye was still not good enough so it was decided to bring the birds back to a shorter racepoint nearer the coast. Burbure is a distance of approximately 310 miles to the front droppers and 390 to the back men. The wind at the racepoint was a brisk north-east headwind veering east in places on route and swinging back north east at the home end, so a stiffish race was on the cards especially after five days in the basket. The estimated arrival time was about 7 hours 30 minutes giving a rough velocity of 1250 ypm. However, as there had been a touch of east in the wind en-route you had to be on the lookout earlier.

At 6 hours and 40 minutes the partners were were calculating rough velocities, comparing the last time they won the National from the same distance in 2010, when they achieved a velocity of 1399ypm.  On comparing, they came to the conclusion that 7 hours would be a good one.  They hadn't got the words out of their mouths when the little checquer and white hen (now known as Little Finn) came tearing out of the south and trapped like a rocket.  They couldn't believe she had done it in this time and to say that everything after that moment was a blur is an understatement!

Ian and Mark then continued scanning the skies looking for more birds but there was nothing travelling.  Then approximately eight minutes later a batch of about fifteen birds appeared in the sky coming from a south easterly direction. They understand that their good friends, Pearson and Purver who fly approximately one mile more, got two from this batch and ended up 2nd and 4th Open.  A fantastic performance from Ian's best friends, Golly, Tubby and loft helper Evo.

Stafford & Wilson

Big lead

There were so many similarities to the 2010 National as there was 16 minutes between the first two pigeons, the direction they came and the same distance race, they never thought for one minute it was possible on that wind, that Little Finn could top the section never mind the open.  After that the pigeons began coming in steadily.  Mark (Sparky) went to the marking station one and a half hours after timing the first bird, only to find the station locked up.  This started the partners thinking that they might have a good bird.  After fifteen minutes people started turning up.  Mark was then informed by a fellow member that there was a bird three minutes in front of Little Finn in the federation so straight away he felt deflated.  However, when the guy came into the marking station he had not clocked until eight minutes later, changing the mood yet again! Stafford and Wilson ended up winning 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th club; 1st, 8th, 10th, 13th, 14th, 22nd and 37th federation.

Before Mark returned to the loft, Ian got a phone call from the federation chairman jokingly saying he would be coming to drug test them, as the birds had been flying so well in recent weeks and had now topped the federation for the second time this season.  He also informed them that there was a bird in the section 6 minutes after us flying 5 miles further, leading them to believe that they had won the club and fed, a result they were more than happy with.  However, two hours later, one of their good friends rang them to tell them he thought we had a good one in the combine.  They said this couldn't be possible due to the fact that they knew of the other bird in our section. Graham then said this was not possible as their federation winner was not clocked until nearly twenty minutes after them.  As the hours passed by there were more and more phone calls from friends saying Little Finn was looking like a good one and that there was nothing near her.  Although Ian and Mark were hopeful at this point they didn't dare be too confident since they were second national last year beaten on the trap from Rheims (430 miles).  As time went on and more information came in it became apparent that Little Finn was well clear in the Combine.

Later on that evening they got the phone call they were hoping for: they were told that they had won the Up North Combine. Of course they were both ecstatic! What's more they were also told it looked like being first open by a clear eight minutes (approx. 27 ypm).  A federation official informed the partners that he would be down to verify the bird at 9pm and this is when the feeling of elation started to click in.  That night Mark and Ian sat in their conservatory, both in a daze.  Their phones were red hot with so many people ringing and congratulating them.  Ian says this was one of the best nights he can every remember in his time in pigeons.

The next morning Ian was up at 4am having hardly slept a wink and sat there trying to take in what they had done.  Later that morning Ian and Mark got a phone call from the North of England Homing Union informing them that not only had they won the Up North Combine, but they had also won the Queen's Cup for first open.  This was the icing on the cake - definitely the stuff dreams are made of! At this point Mark and Ian would like to thank everyone for all the congratulations and good wishes they have received since Sunday.

Both parents bought on PIPA

Little Finn is a two year old hen of Rudy de Saere breeding.  She was raced lightly as a young bird, however as a yearling she flew three channel races as well as all the inland programme, scoring on a few occasions, being sixteenth federation from the same race last year.  This year she has flown three club races and the two national races from Eastbourne and Burbure, only to night out at Burbure 2 weeks ago.  The only difference was she pulled around immediately and the very next day it looked like she had never even had a race. She was flown on widowhood with her cock being at home all the time. She now will be retired to the breeding loft as Ian and Mark always look to the future, as in their eyes winners breed winners. Little Finn is bred from a direct son of Rudy de Saers Favoriete a winner of first and second national for Rudy. Her mother is the partners' No 1 de Saer breeding hen Winter Rose who incidentally bred both of their Loftus Breeder Buyer winners in 2016 and 2017, winning in excess of £12,000.  She is bred from New Tours, winner of first national for Rudy and which was the long distance champion pigeon of all Belgium. Both parents of Little Finn were bought on PIPA. Take a look at the pedigree of Little Finn here...

James Parker and Ian (JPS Lofts) bought the de Saers in 2013 only buying from Rudy's very best.  At first they were slightly unsure of their capabilities as in the past they had put more down to looks and handling than necessary.  However, they needn't have worried as both Rudy and Thomas Gyselbrecht of Pipa told them these were super birds but like most Vandenabeele based birds they were not the best in the hand.  The more they raced Rudy's birds, expecially from the distance and in head winds, they began to realise they were special as both James and Ian are now finding them to be formidable pigeons.  James flying as James and Pete Parker have already won the section this year with Rudy's birds.  Also a fact worth mentioning is that Tam Blair in Scotland bought a full sister to Little Finn and this bred the winner of 1st UK Ace Pigeon, 6th International Ace Pigeon and 8th Int in the final of the Grad Canaria Atlantic Challenge.

James and Ian would personally like to thank Rudy de Saere for supplying them with the most fantastic middle distance birds they have ever bought.  Also thanks to Thomas Gyselbrecht and Peter Oberheister of Pipa for recommending these birds.

After savouring the moment, the hard work must continue for both Mark and Ian as the big races are coming thick and fast. They don't think it could get any better than this, but that won't stop them trying.

Congratulations Ian and Mark on your fantastic acheivement!

(Ian Stafford and Mark Wilson are the only loft ever to win the Queen's cup in Skinningrove HS and only the third loft in the federation ever to achieve this accolade.)