I had the pleasure of attending the 2013 Tournament of Champions One Loft Pigeon Racing (TOC) in fabulous Las Vegas, February 20 -22 run by the very capable long time Vegas champion Hector Vancheri. The weather in Las Vegas in February is about as perfect as you can get. I’ve worked a lot in Vegas during the summer months; take my word for it gets as hot as the blazing sun. The day of the race the weather couldn’t have been more perfect and the results where outstanding.
I flew in from Washington, D.C. and arrived in the afternoon of the 22nd and headed immediately over to the Aliante Casino and Hotel for shipping. The place was abuzz with many big names like; the late Marty Ladin, Ed Lorenz, C.L. Gage, Ken Kelly, Bill Traw, award winning pigeon videographer Jim Jenner, Dean Ledet, Francis Sales, Sal Rodriguez, Mike Buckner, Greg McKnight as well as English fanciers Lee Fribbins, owner of the Racing Pigeon, Paul Smith, U.K. South African Million Dollar Pigeon Race Coordinator and David Coward-Talbott, winner of many National races as well as many local fanciers such as Jeff and Dick Earthman, Vic DeBrouwer and Bill Ensign.
Vic DeBrouwer took the stage and informed those breeders in attendance on how the night would unfold and what breeders could expect the race to be like in the morning. He also ran the raffle. I had the chance to catch up with several friends and had the privilege of putting birds bred by Eric Houchin, Mountain View Lofts of Washington State, into the race baskets. Running the clock and helping breeders was the ever beautiful Brenda Vancheri, wife of Hector, and helping her was Ensign’s radiant girlfriend, Ashley Spangler.
After all the birds were e-clocked and put into the crates many of the breeders either stayed at the hotel or went to the strip and partied late into the night. Fun was had by all.
The next morning came early, maybe a bit too early for some. Vic DeBrouwer and his lovely wife Charlene were gracious to open up their beautiful home and hosted a wonderful breakfast and loft tour for race participants. Vic he and Charlene built a fabulous home with a magnificent pool, Caesar himself would have approved, and a world class pigeon loft west of the strip. He and Bill Ensign, a Las Vegas native and pigeon aficionado, race as partners under the name Two-Be-Won. No decisions are made without the others knowledge and or approval and every expense is shared 50/50. Together they have built a reputation in the One Loft race scene as formidable competitors where they compete.
Fanciers converged the next morning at Vic’s home where he graciously opened up his home and lofts for tours of his modern loft and his incredible family of birds. Vic’s grandfather was an immigrant from Belgium and helped the U.S. Military during WWII and is credited with developing a way to release pigeons one at a time from a deployed blimp. Vic explained with great fanfare how his grandfather came up with his contraption and how it benefited the military effort. It was interesting to learn too that his grandfather’s farm in 1942 was developed by the Navy into the Naval Air Station at Santa Ana, California recognized today worldwide as the location of the huge enclosed blimp houses; which have been used for location shooting for numerous movies & TV programs, including JAG, The X-Files, etc.
Vic and Bill’s lofts are one of a kind and totally custom built to their specifications down to the last inch. They had two large sections with numerous breeding boxes with huge aviaries for the birds to get outside and enjoy the elements and sun. On the backside of this loft, they have a larger section that they can use as individual breeding pens if they want but the pens looked like they were using this section more for storage at the time. The lofts are stuccoed and have large roll up doors that allow them to secure it when necessary as well as running water and an area for a table and chairs to enjoy his birds from the comfort of the shaded overhang. The walls on the outside of his loft, protected by the overhand, are covered in professional photographs of birds that have won acclaim for Vic and Bill. There were dozens of them and it was obvious that they are very proud of their birds and their accomplishments.
Later that day, breeders and spectators alike gathered at the race loft at Hector’s house just down the road from Vic’s. Hector was buzzing around as one could expect on such an important race day. His wife, Brenda, and her helpers were busy too, and had set up the garage as a large buffet with all the fixings. There was enough food there for 500 people, no one went hungry I can assure you. It was announced that 228 birds were released at 7:30 am into clear skies, no wind and 52 degrees.
Hector’s setup is modern and accommodating for the birds, handler and breeders and is located on a parcel owned by Bill. He and Bill are also 50/50 partner’s owners in the race; it was evident each dedicated their talents and energy to ensure the Tournament of Champions is a world class race and it showed down to the smallest detail. Directly in front of the very large racing loft was a covered area set up with tables for participants to get out of the hot sun. Next to that area is a very large individual breeding loft with 75 individual compartments. Hector and Bill intend to use this space for participants who want to send birds from overseas but can’t get their entries through quarantine in time to adjust and acclimate to the race loft. Was an impressive setup to say the least.
Once lunch was served and folks started to set into waiting for the birds to arrive, Brenda and her helpers started to draw raffle winners. It was a fun atmosphere and there was a prize for anyone that sincerely participated. The prizes ranged from top shelf bottles of wine, chocolate, perch entry fees to gift baskets and other assorted items. Fun was had by all.
Those that didn’t participate had the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make news ones. With so many heavy hitters from all over the country, each sharing his or her own perspective on a wide range of pigeon related topics to politics everyone learned something new.
As it became nearer the time race birds were expected to arrive the tension and excitement hung heavy. Everyone was anxious about the arrival of the birds and if they would be the next winner. We would not have to wait long, at 1:54 pm it started to rain pigeons from the sky. Eight birds hit the board together earning breeders; Ken Kelly/Mike Buckner, Phelps Family, Tom Famhie (Battle Ridge Loft), Jack Olsen, Dean Ledet/Roland Gutierrez, Francis Sales, J. Ling and Preston McGirr all clocked as equal 1st!
It was magical to see the birds arrive and dive for the landing board. From the moment the first eight arrived, there was not a lull in the remaining arrivals. It literally rained pigeons and is a tribute to Hector’s ability as a handler to get the birds into tip top condition and to perform as they did on that day. Conditions at the loft couldn’t have been more perfect with a comfortable 66 degrees, light wind and clear skies.
Other notable fanciers that clocked birds were: Tom Nettis in 22nd place, Lee Fribbins in 31st, David Talbott in 34th, Barry Venn in 41st, Eric Houchin (Mountain View Lofts) in 47th, Marty Ladin & Eddie Spetz in 61st, Bill Traw in 64th, Frank McLaughlin in 74th ect…,
After it was apparent all the capital prizes were won, participants said their goodbyes but only after marking their calendar for next year to again send birds to the Tournament of Champions.
I can honestly say that the Tournament of Champions one loft race was one of the best races I’ve attended; the birds were in shape, the accommodations were awesome and the hospitality was world class. I look forward to attending many more to come and remember what happens in Vegas….is Good!