I just wanted to elaborate a bit further on the reasoning behind the race distance of 600KM for the 2020 race.

For a number of years and particularly since we have moved to Heron Banks we have consistently had problems with obtaining our import permits. The 2020 race was the first year that we were able to revert back to our usual training schedule based on a training of six months after the birds had finished quarantine in South Africa. In 2018 and 2019 we were particularly late and so we had to reduce the HS5 distance to 268KM and 264KM and subsequently the final race distance to 521K.

It has always been our objective to have a hard but fair race for the birds and in this respect, we regularly raced over 600KM in the past, in 2006 632KM and 2014 661KM and in the intervening years at least seven times over 550KM.

Our rules state that we will race 500KM but also that we can change that distance to be a ``fair test of the pigeon’s ability to return to the lofts``. My interpretation of that is that the distance can be increased but can also be reduced depending on all the surrounding circumstances.

In view of the fact that the pigeons have been able to benefit from a full training programme of six months and in view of their levels of fitness and in particular in view of the weather conditions I met with our trainers and we decided to see if we could find a suitable liberation spot towards Hanover, which would just take us over the 595KM distance.

We carried out four separate weather checks and were advised that there would be a slight head wind and then the conditions would be good. I have all the wind figures if anyone is more interested. We were never advised that there would be rain.

On race day the liberation team were up at 3am to review the weather conditions and liberation was agreed from Hanover at 6.04am. The birds flew well and immediately took the right direction home. Unfortunately, what happened thereafter is that the wind dropped and thereafter a full rain front came in at Kroonstad which halted the pigeons. We know that the winning bird came into the lofts from the north so had most probably flown around the storm whilst the others had come down to roost.

Therefore, in relation to the question as to why so few birds came home on the day of the race one absolutely must take into account the non-foreseen weather conditions in Kroonstad. Those of you who experienced the severe storm in Heron Banks on Thursday before the race will understand the ferocity of one of these storms with lighting, thunder and hard heavy rain. I think enough of you will also remember the thunderstorms that we used to experience in Johannesburg in the late afternoon and how this also affected our returns.

In relation to the question as to why we flew further this year than we have since 2014 (661KM) was because this was the first year since 2014 that we were able to have a full six month training period to prepare the birds and we judged that they were fit and ready to fly that distance again.

I hope that above does give some insight into the why and wherefore of our decision. In my experience it is always good to have complete transparency when a situation becomes nebulous.

Our import permits for 2021 are with DAFF awaiting final approval so we again expect to close our lofts for quarantine on July 1st 2020 and have a full 6 month training period so please give your thoughts to next year and start breeding your birds to participate in the 25th SAMDPR which will be a very special edition for our 25th Anniversary.

Sara J. Blackshaw

MD Air Sport Internationale SA

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