Former American Runner Turned Hard Luck Puerto Rican, Sudden Shift, Inspires New 'Sudden Shift Fund'

Most Ambitious Procurement and Project To Date is Motivation Behind Creation of Changing Leads Acquisition Account

Soon after Changing Leads was founded in February 2014, Ali Goodrich and Megan Jones discovered an important secondary purpose. The retraining program began straightforwardly with several Team Valor horses that were retired to Changing Leads' care. But, as word spread about the new program, exercise riders and other racing professionals, who spend every day caring for racehorses at the track, began to tell us about horses they had ridden or handled in past and that they had loved while they were in their barns. In each case, the horses were now years past their best form, had dropped down the claiming ranks, and were no longer in their care. They didn't have the resources and funding to acquire the horses and support them in retirement, and they wished for a way to initiate the retirement the horses deserved.

Sudden Shift was one of those horses, remembered fondly by his former exercise rider Xavier Aizpuru, who knew the gelding was racing at a small track for a low claiming price quite frequently, but wasn’t sure where the track was. He mentioned the horse in passing and said, “If you were ever to help a horse for me, that would be the one.”

All parties were a little stunned when a quick Equibase and google search revealed the horse was in Puerto Rico!

Megan Jones described, “I guess I didn’t know Ali as well then, because when we discovered the horse was in Puerto Rico, I immediately said to her, ‘nevermind! Don’t worry about it.’ I wouldn’t have said that now knowing her resolve, but at the time it seemed most logical. And she quickly replied, ‘NO! Let’s go get him!’ It’s funny when you think about it now, we were kind of half crazy to go try to bring back a horse from Puerto Rico by water. But that’s how it went...”

Changing Leads had no immediate contacts in Puerto Rico, and for a month, attempts to track down and acquire the horse seemed to be two steps forward and three steps back.

Goodrich ultimately negotiated a private sale on the day the 8-year-old gelding was to make his 81st career start, and Sudden Shift was soon on his way back to America. “It was such a strange time of relief, excitement, and trepidation,” Goodrich recalls. “By the time he got to Fenella O’Flynn’s rehabilitation farm in Maryland, we had been through this long, arduous process. I was overjoyed to get the 3am phone call from Fenella saying that the horse had arrived safely. Then, I realized she was crying because he was unbelievably thin.”

For some time, Sudden Shift was untrusting of humans and viciously protective of his food. Jones said, “I went up to examine him the first week and he would charge you about as fast as a barracuda attacks its prey. I’ve never seen a gelding move so fast that you could see it coming and still almost not get out of his way. He also didn’t like to be touched, especially near his head and mouth.  He would come after you for that, too. It was heartbreaking because you could tell he wanted to interact but just didn’t trust anyone. He’d prick his ears and watch you from a little distance. We started calling him “Shifty” for his barn name because he was really quite a shifty fellow at the time, but in reality I think he thought it was the opposite and considered all humans to be shifty until proven otherwise. Fenella and Kelly Colgan did an amazing job with that horse.  They spent so much time with him fattening him up and getting him to trust. Kelly single-handedly got him comfortable being touched around his head while I was away at Saratoga. I left for the Spa and was getting bitten anytime I got near his head.  When I came back in September and he was a different horse.”

As it turned out, after several months of retraining Sudden Shift became the most solid riding horse in the Changing Leads program. Trainer and riding instructor Kirstin Murphy describes the horse as “like a floaty in a swimming pool” for her lesson kids. If children lose their balance while riding him, Shifty simply adjusts himself underneath them, catches them with his neck, and helps to rebalance their position.

In May of 2015, Sudden Shift was rehomed with the Madisonville Equestrian Center in Louisiana as a lesson horse.

  Sudden Shift, left, at his new home, Madisonville Equestrian Center in Louisiana, along with fellow Changing Leads graduate Lake Drop

Sudden Shift, left, at his new home, Madisonville Equestrian Center in Louisiana, along with fellow Changing Leads graduate Lake Drop

After acquiring horses such as Sudden Shift, Zetterholm, and Pure Attitude, who had dropped down the claiming ranks as they aged, Goodrich and Jones decided there was a need for a separate funding account within the organization distinctly for funding acquisitions of the old warriors. “We want our donors to have the option of controlling the manner in which their donations are used. General donations always go directly to the upkeep, feed, veterinary and retraining costs,” Goodrich explains. “However, we also want to fund the acquisition of the occasional horse still out on the track after a long career and ready to retire with dignity."

Thus, the second account was created and named in honor of Sudden Shift - and the cause he so nobly now represents.

Donors can give money to the Sudden Shift Fund and earmark it for the acquisition of a specific horse. This method has now been used effectively as means of holding and then utilizing funds to acquire and retire the likes of Get A Grip, Dark Voyager and Dig Alittle Deeper.

The private acquisition horses thus far - Sudden Shift, Zetterholm, Pure Attitude, Get A Grip, Dark Voyager and Dig Alittle Deeper - account for a combined 252 career racing starts! All were dropping down the claiming ranks with age, but were acquired by Changing Leads before incurring any serious injury; therefore, each have been able to pursue second sporting careers with success. 

Click here to donate to the Sudden Shift fund.