A Horse And Trainer Who Saved Each Other

Kendal Python
Published: February 27, 2024 06:51 pm EST

Trot Insider has learned that Maritime iron horse Kendal Python has passed away at the age of 30. The story of Kendal Python, however, is more than a pacer with a long career. It's the story of a horse and trainer who found each other at just the right time.

Foaled on April 28, 1994 at Kendal Hills Stud Farm in Ontario, Kendal Python was a son of Topnotcher from the Albatross mare Tabby Hanover. He started his on-track career as a two-year-old in Ontario and competed there for his two- and three-year-old seasons, taking a mark of 2:00.2 at Flamboro Downs. From there he made his way to Canada's east coast and competed mostly in claiming ranks, where he caught the eye of horseman Jeff Lilley.

"He needed at least 100 pounds on him," Lilley told TROT Magazine in a previous interview. "I had been watching him and he'd been racing great to the three-quarters. I figured if I could get that 100 pounds on him he'd go the rest of the way."

Lilley — the horse's co-owner along with his mother, Rebecca Horton — also found out in short order that Kendal Python was skittish, to put it lightly.

"It took me about a month to get him happy....He was spooky. If I was sweeping cobwebs in the barn and lifted the broom above my waist he'd get scared to death.

"The night I claimed him the guy driving him told me: 'if this horse is in Summerside he can hear a car start in Charlottetown.' He sees and hears everything."

After taking some time to learn about each other, Kendal Python and Lilley became inseparable. They raced, they learned, and they grew and it's quite likely they literally saved each other. 

"I got a job at Truro Raceway, and I hadn't been sober all that long when I got him, about two months, and he really gave me something else to focus on," Lilley told Trot Insider. "I know people that struggle to get clean and sober, and there's nothing you can do when you're around your old haunts and things like that. He gave me something else."

Kendal Python definitely developed into something else for Lilley, who coined him an "ATM machine" during his run from 1998 through to 2002 where the horse raced 190 straight times without qualifying, posting seasons of 59, 57, 59 and 53 starts. During that stretch, Lilley shifted from just the horse's trainer and obtained his driver's license as well. He got his first driving win with the horse on June 27, 1999 at Truro Raceway and guided Kendal Python to his 1:58.4 mark the very next week.

"He was like my first round draft pick, you know what I mean? You kind of build the rest around him," said Lilley. "He was my Jean Belliveau. He was a really good animal and a real easy keeper."

In a career with 494 starts, Kendal Python amassed a summary of 60-55-57 with just north of $62,000 in purses. While his earnings might not seem all that impressive, Lilley recalled two instances where his prized pupil delivered crucial victories for connections outside his ownership group. In July 2003, New Zealand's Mark Jones guided Kendal Python to victory when the World Driving Championship made its stop at Charlottetown Driving Park. 

Four years later, Kendal Python was once again involved in the World Driving Championship but in a less direct fashion. Charlottetown Driving Park hosted the 2007 National Driving Championship, with Kendal Python entered to race but drawing in as the first also eligible for his contest. A late scratch pulled the 13-year-old pacer off the bench and into the mix for driver Gilles Barrieau.

"Gilles [Barrieau] was down to drive another one, that horse was scratched and Kendal Python was the also eligible. If I don't put him in the in the race, Gilles gets three points for a scratch. They finish second, he got four or five points and he only won the tournament by one point. 

"Gilles wouldn't have got his trip to Australia if I didn't enter Kendal Python."

Lilley also fondly recalled the Clash of the Titans on New Years Eve 2006 at Rideau Carleton Raceway, organized by TROT Magazine, pitting iron horses Conrad Seelster and Kendal Python against each other in a two-horse match race. While Lilley and Kendal Python ended up on the short end of that stick, the experience and opportunity was one the longtime horseman will never forget.

"He took me upcountry twice," noted Lilley. "I think of all the different people that horse introduced me to. You can't replace that kind.

"I'm really just blessed to have him, you know? He did a lot for me and I did a lot for him."

The argument could be made Lilley and Horton both did a lot for him, providing the retired horse with a solid location to live out his days after competition. At the age of 84, Horton isn't as active in the barn as she used to be but when Kendal Python was turned out with Lilley's other horses "she's at the door and window, watching them like a hawk."

Kendal Python passed away on Monday, Feb. 26, marking a day of highs and lows for Lilley. Later that night, he watched as a horse he co-owns, All Bets On Tex, won convincingly for trainer-driver Tyler Moore at The Raceway at the Western Fair District in 1:54.4.

"Tyler phoned today and he talked more about Kendal Python than the one that won last night."

In a game of highs and lows, harness racing teaches participants its fair share of life lessons. Kendal Python left an indelible mark on Lilley in a relationship that spanned four decades.

"If he taught me one thing, it was how to keep a horse happy."

After nearly 500 starts and 16 years of retirement, it's safe to say that Lilley kept Kendal Python more than just happy.

Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the connections of Kendal Python.

(Standardbred Canada)



So sorry to hear about your loss Jeff. It was a pleasure meeting you and your mother in Ottawa. Take care from all the Houghtons.

491 starts in 12 years of racing.

Sorry for your loss, but I bet he appreciated the 15 years you gave him after he had finished racing.

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