Pigeon-enthusiast Joel Verschoot poses at the "Verschoot pigeons Loft " AFP
Belgian pigeon breeder Joel Verschoot could probably have settled down to a comfortable retirement in March after he sold the world's most expensive racer.
Armando the pigeon won worldwide headlines and netted Verschoot 1.25-million euros ($1.4-million) when he won over Chinese buyers in an online auction.
Now the famous bird toils for a Beijing public works magnate, fathering what his new owner must hope will be a new generation of feathered champions.
But 64-year-old retired abattoir worker Verschoot is not done yet. He still consecrates up to 10 hours a day tending for and racing his charges.
Before Armando set the online pigeon auction world alight earlier this year, the Flemish fancier's most expensive protegee was 400,000-euro Nadine.
When Armando's sale came up, two Chinese buyers went head to head, raising each other by 100,000 euros a time until one was forced to retire from the field.
"We never thought it could go up like that," he said, recalling how his then 50-year-old father introduced him to pigeon fancying at a young age.
Joel was the only one of the elder Verschoot's nine children to take an interest in training his father's 50-strong racing flock.
Now he has 300 birds of his own, and fame in the sport.
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As a trainer, he explains, his speciality was keeping apart male and female pairs for two weeks before the day-long race.
Armando was not merely randy, however, he was also "crafty", his trainer explains: expert at dodging power cables and airborne predators.
He came second in a race in Limoges, France in 2017 and 2018, and won last year's meet at nearby Angouleme.
Some purists are less excited by the arrival of big money deals in their traditional sport.
Maybe Belgium's pigeon racing scene has room for a variety of approaches, after all between 18,000 and 20,000 Belgians are licensed breeders.
But Ancia is pessimistic. "You have to give up a lot of your time, and it's rare that a breeder is followed into the hobby by his wife or kids," he said.
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