Forget the Melbourne Cup, how about pigeon racing?

While most punters are gearing up for the race that stops the nation, one group of avid sportsmen and women are getting their ducks in a row — or rather, pigeons — to take their competition to the skies.

In a business where bloodlines equal dollar signs, breeders are prepared to shell out the big bucks for a prize-winning pigeon.

And with the 2018 racing season just around the corner, and more than $150,000 up for grabs at the annual Victoria Cup, the rewards are hardly chicken feed.

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

"It's a lot like horse racing — you get the right bloodline and keep them in good form, that's the difference between winning and losing."

So what exactly does it take to breed a champion?

The Phar Lap of birds

pigeon racers

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

"You want a bird that's carried that strength and stamina through the gene pool," he said.

In racing terms, that means competitors are looking to score a Phar Lap at auction to continue the bloodline.

Quite literally some of the birds up for auction are descendants of Phar Lap, a three-time Federation pigeon champion.

pigeon racer 2

"They're called the Phar Lap Harrison's, because it takes a really strong bird to get home," he said.

"The bloke who first bred them back in the day realised they were quality, so that's why he named them after Phar Lap."

From squabs to old birds, pigeon racing does not discriminate

Pigeon fanciers

From training regimes to feed, every racer has their own trade secrets when it comes to breeding a champion.

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

"Winning is great, but pigeon racing isn't about the money," said Ivan Fonti, a breeder and founder of Pigeon Media Australia.

"This sport keeps kids off the street, or from looking down at an iPad all day."

A 15-year-old boy smiles at a pigeon auction.

For 15-year-old Justin Tenaglia, it means spending the weekends with his father, waiting for his prized pigeons to fly over the skyline.

"It's just the excitement of seeing them come home," he said.

"There's nothing that compares to it."

Whether or not these pigeon fanciers will be able to breed a champion is yet to be seen.

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

"You won't find another community like this," Mr Montebello quipped.

Pigeon racer 3

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