Forget the Melbourne Cup, and the pigeon sport?

As most punters gear up for the race that stops the nation, a group of avid sportsmen gather their ducks – or rather pigeons – to take their competitors into the air.

In a business where bloodlines equal the dollar sign, breeders are willing to shell out a lot of money for an award-winning pigeon.

And with the 2018 racing season quickly approaching and over $ 150,000 up for grabs at the annual Victoria Cup, the rewards are hardly chicken food.

“A pigeon is just a pigeon without the right characteristics,” said Charlie Montebello, breeder and president of the Werribee Homing Club.

So what exactly does it take to raise a champion?

The Phar Lap of birds

Choosing an award-winning pigeon takes more skill than you might think.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

Like poker, choosing the right pigeon is a game of skill, patience and instinct according to Frank Veluto, a 45-year veteran of the sport.

“You want a bird that carries that strength and stamina through the gene pool,” he said.

In terms of racing, this means that the competitors are looking to score a round of Phar at auction to continue the lineage.

Literally, some of the birds up for auction are descendants of Phar Lap, the Federation’s three-time pigeon champion.

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Like an athlete, competitors look for strong and enduring pigeons.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

“The guy who first raised them at the time realized that they were quality, which is why he named them after Phar Lap.”

From youngsters to old pigeons, the pigeon sport does not discriminate

Two children watch the Western Pigeon Federation auction.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

From training regimes to diet, every runner has their own trade secrets when it comes to raising a champion.

But one thing they can all agree on is the importance of sport for future generations.

“Winning is good, but pigeon racing is not about the money,” said Ivan Fonti, breeder and founder of Pigeon Media Australia.

A 15-year-old boy smiles at a pigeon auction.
Pigeon races are open to amateurs of all ages.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

For 15-year-old Justin Tenaglia, that means spending the weekends with his father, waiting for his precious pigeons to fly above the horizon line.

“It’s just the excitement to see them come home,” he said.

“There is nothing that compares to that.”

It remains to be seen whether or not these pigeon fanciers will be able to breed a champion.

But as far as they are concerned, it doesn’t really matter.

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Charlie Montebello is a veteran of the pigeon racing industry.(ABC News: Bridget Judd)

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