History of the Race
Why pay R20 000.00 at an auction to breed babies to win certificates and prize money in most cases less than R500.00? With this question in mind the following question was natural. If golfers can play for a Million Dollars why not the pigeon fancier? This would bring in line the prices paid for top breeding pigeons to the prize money their offspring could win.
Tobin Prior, the then Marketing Director for Sun International, was approached by Brent Chalmers, Commissioner of the PGA, with this idea. How interesting, in fact, what a fun idea and right in line with Sun City’s extravaganza philosophy. Do it! Tobin’s reaction.
Brent put together a consortium of Swiss backers for the venture who committed their support for an initial five year period. The first two aspects, venue and finance, were in place.
The next step was to get the backing of the fanciers in close proximity to the venue.
As a meeting chaired by Silas Willis attended by Organizations affiliated with the Witwatersrand Combine (now the Gauteng Racing Pigeon Combine) held in conjunction with the opening of the new complex for the Pretoria Wedvlug Duiwe Federasie, the concept for the race was tabled.
Those attending this meeting in 1995, some expressing skepticism, nevertheless gave the race its blessing.
Louis de Jager, the then president of the South African Homing Union, believing that this race would enhance and promote pigeon racing, received approval for the SAHU to sanction the race.
The rest would now be simple, go to the local newsagent or the library and get the book “How to run a Million Dollar Pigeon Race” One small problem - the book was not in print as it had not been written! So who cares, get in experts doing sports promotion.
Alan Pascoe International, the London based sports promotion company, were appointed – thank goodness for Swiss Franks!
Thankfully they realized that as far as pigeon keeping was concerned, without a handbook, better leave the infrastructure to the pigeon fanciers.
A working group consisting of Silas Willis, Ronnie Croxford, Zandy Meyer and Promotion companies Anton and Chris Kruger visited Sun City to find a suitable site to house the pigeons.
Existing infrastructure at the then no longer used security facility at Sun City was altered and adapted into pigeon lofts, unique and suitable for the very hot climate of the area.
It quickly became apparent that the promotion company’s yardstick for normal sporting events did not apply to pigeon racing. They did not have any expertise on the nuts and bolts aspect of a pigeon race. A local sports promotion company, Statfocus, was appointed and Hennie Crowther now headed the project. Although he did not know from which side a pigeon ate from, at least he knew local conditions!
Clearly the local market needed to be the starting point and the collective knowledge of local pigeon fanciers would have to be used.
To this end ex South African’s John Galbraith in Belgium and Morris Adler in the USA were asked to assist. An acquaintance made at another one loft race, Paul Smith from the UK, was appointed to spearhead the overseas marketing.
The task of luring international fanciers to support a one loft race in darkest Africa and to part with their best pigeons at a US$1000 entry fee in the face of the many disasters and failures of other similar races was not an easy task.
Quickly came the realization that there was more to an event of this nature than meets the eye.
How does one keep track of the birds and compile a training and race result?
What about quarantining the birds? The state facilities would not be able to do this.
Young minds embrace change and the use of electronic rings was introduced for the first time into South Africa.
Michael Holt was appointed Systems Manager and together with the promotions team set up a system that would meet the requirements – give every entrant and equal opportunity to compete on the same basis as every other competitor.
No easy task as things like cell phones and electronic transfer of data were still in their infancy. Pioneering work indeed which has now grown to a communication system visited by 35000 individuals on an average monthly basis and some 3.4 million hits.
Quarantining, pioneering once again as no private facility had been accredited in South Africa.
Doctor Robert Conradie headed this crucial aspect and, with State Veterinarian DR. Peter Jay supporting, established the first such facility in South Africa; now covering 550 square meters – this is the biggest and best in the world. Best without doubt experiencing only 0.01% fatality on average with a figure of 10% being an acceptable figure as the norm for such facilities.
Sadly Ronnie Croxford’s health deteriorated to the extent that he was unable to take up his position as trainer. Who better to step into this position than father and son combination Steve and Corrie Naude.
Together with Zandy Meyer they formed the team to train the pigeons. All three being champions in their own right and specialist young bird fanciers, flying young birds at 500km, saw to it that proven systems were applied to the training.
Fierce adversaries normally, their combined systems provided results which astounded the international community. These methods, together with dedication from the various trainers at the lofts, over the years and continued guidance from Zandy, Corrie and Rob has ensured that the results produced a standard that has been applauded world wide.
That the South African pigeon fanciers have benefited by the influx of winning blood is a matter of record, winner after winner has been bred from the pigeons that have completed the Million Dollar.
The image of the sport likewise has changed. The previous response to finding out that ones hobby was keeping pigeons, “Oh as a kid I also kept pigeons” to “have you also got a pigeon in the Sun City Million Dollar?” The race has brought a new found respect to the sport of pigeon racing.
The Belgium fancy press has described it as the “Tour de France” of pigeon racing small wonder that internationally the South African race is hailed as the greatest pigeon race in the world and the race with the proven track record.
The magnificence of Sun City, the excitement of the race and the presentation of the whole event has resulted in the race weekend being the highlight for many in the pigeon sport.
None of this would be possible without the entrants. Many have competed since its inception. Rewards have been great and many have become household names.
Clearly the race evolves because of the interest of a great many people and will continue for as long as it provides what it has, an equal and fair opportunity to test your pigeons against the world’s best!