Mark Gilbert is a man on a mission, his goal is to win the Barcelona International plus any other of the six other Internationals held each season along the way. For him, International racing is where it’s at, he wants to test his pigeons and his skills against the best lofts in Europe.

To this end he has begun to acquire some of the best Barcelona International bloodlines in recent years, watching for when they become available. When Etienne Meirlaen held his clearance sale Mark realised there was a golden opportunity to obtain such pigeons, and has also studied the many lofts in Northern Holland, which he considers the best in the world for long distance racing. “You go to Belgium for faster pigeons and Holland for marathon pigeons” he said. They are slower than his established family but they keep going on tough days and he is beginning to see the way forward in his quest.

Over the last two weekends there has been some incredibly hard races and Mark has won the BICC twice already this season with pigeons bred down from “Starlight”, second International Tarbes against 12537b in 2008 for Etienne Meirlaen in Belgium, which he now owns. The first was a granddaughter which won from Poitiers and the second a direct son winning the BICC from Pau, a distance of 560 miles in a head wind. Interestingly the pigeon that was second in the race for G & C Cooper is also a granddaughter of “Starlight” so 1st and 2nd open in a very tough race over 560 miles. The Pau winner was bred in 2015 when “Starlight” was paired to “Southfield Melissa” which won 1st International Bordeaux Hens in 2011 for Mark so “the apple never falls far from the tree.”

The Pau International was held over for one day due to heavy mist and light rain at the race point, but conditions cleared for the following day although they had to face a North East wind all through France on their journey home. Birds were being clocked in France late in the afternoon but were flying 450 miles, so the BICC birds had another 100-200 miles to go and with the Channel crossing nothing was really expected make it on the day. Pigeons are intelligent nearly all of them waited until the next day before setting off again. All except one of course because at 5:55am “Southfield Melissa’s Star” dropped into Marks loft which meant he had to have made the crossing the day before. Just under two hours later his niece arrived in Bath for Geoff and Catherine Cooper so that too may have roosted in England overnight. 
The winds in the UK were North Westerly by then so both had head winds all the way home by their sheer determination, a trait that is likely to have come down from “Starlight”. 

Mark likes to test and select his pigeons as hard as the continentals and “Melissa’s Star” was no exception, as in 2017 he flew Pau 562 miles, St Vincent 538 miles and Perpignan 634 miles! 

When I asked him why he had bought “Starlight” he said it was because he had multiple performances as well as 2nd International Tarbes and his pedigree contained bloodlines from Cor De Heijde’s loft, as do many other top Barcelona International pigeons. “Starlight is a good pigeon” said Mark, and he also acquired “Kannibal Barcelona” “Golden Barcelona” to add to his breeding loft that contains such great pigeons as children of Euro Diamond, 2nd international Carcassonne, 5th international Perpignan, New Laureaat 1st international Barcelona, Mona 1st international Narbonne and Minstral 8th international Perpignan and 30th international Carcassonne as well as the dynasty bred down from “Southfield Supreme” 1st International Dax. 

To date Mark has won on the International stage 1st international Dax with “Southfield Supreme”, 1st and 2nd International yearlings from Agen with “Southfield Melissa” and “Southfield Abigail” and 1st, 2nd and 3rd international hens from Agen with “Southfield Melissa”, “Southfield Karen” and “Southfield Abigail” also 5th international yearlings Agen and 26th and 31st international old birds from Agen so we can expect many more from this loft. 

He is indeed a man on a mission, he is thinking well out of the box in comparison with most other British fanciers and although he can receive some criticism on the social media for sending large teams in the early races, the bemoaners should applaud him for his vision and for the determination to turn that vision into reality. He is fearless when sending his pigeons “where others fear to tread” and should be held in high esteem for showing us all how it can be done. He is fair in saying he is lucky to have the resources that many others do not, but he is not the only wealthy pigeon man in the UK, and I feel many more will ride the wave in future. 

There are now five lofts that have won one or more International races, with others putting up fantastic performances too. I can see International racing going from strength to strength in the UK, led by a man who now has 22 National wins notched in his belt and he is nowhere near finished yet!


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