More Than Just A Pretty Face: The Saga Of Genetic Anomaly RFR The Iceman

Very little about RFR The Iceman has been by the book.

The striking gray Arabian stallion defied genetics when he was born with sabino overo markings and two piercing blue eyes outlined in black. He defied geography to race at a pari-mutuel venue, then when he was done running, he defied neglect to recover physically and emotionally into the horse he once was.

His owner/breeder Pamela Fullerton was just as defiant, standing up for her horse on the track and in the empty field, and eventually defeating Stage 3 lung cancer to reinvigorate her own equestrian career.

The Iceman was born, and resides today, at the Fullerton family’s Resolute Farms in Athens, Wisc. Sire RFR Polar Star and dam I Ofthe Flame were both Resolute homebreds, with the racing blood coming from his mother through broodmare sire Flaming Streak, who ran at the now-shuttered Bay Meadows.

I Ofthe Flame won one of nine starts at Mount Pleasant Meadows in central Michigan, under the training of Pamela’s son, Jason Fullerton. What made her on-track career memorable, though, was her right eye – colored a light blue that accented her gray coat.

Fullerton, a retired administrative law judge and lawyer, knew she had something unusual with I Ofthe Flame, and she was diligent in making sure her unique filly jumped through every bureaucratic hoop for registration and recognition.

“When [I Ofthe Flame], who had one blue eye was born, I called the [Arabian Horse Association] and said, ‘Oh my God, what happened? I’ve got this Arabian filly with a blue eye. Did the Appaloosa from down the street get in or something?’” Fullerton said. “They said, “No, one in maybe 25,000 has a blue eye,’ I asked if she could still be registered, and they said, ‘Oh yeah, we blood type them. They’re all DNA’d and everything. If she passes her DNA, we’ll be happy to register her.’

“I asked if she was going to pass that on, and they said no,” Fullerton continued. “Then I talked to a geneticist in Michigan, and I asked if she was going to pass it on, and he said, “No, no. It’s way too recessive to pass on. It just pops up once in a while.’”

Fullerton bred I Ofthe Flame to RFR Polar Star, a regional champion sport horse from a Russian pedigree, rather obscure for a modern racing Arabian. The breeder expected an attractive foal, but when the colt opened his eyes, she realized she had a once-in-a-lifetime horse.

When the colt shed out and revealed himself to be gray, The Iceman also unveiled facial markings as though he had dipped his nose and mouth deep in pink and white paint. Plenty of horses have blue eyes caused by a blaze splashing over them, but The Iceman’s naturally black eye-lining sent Fullerton back to the geneticists to make sure her colt was on the level.

Fullerton consulted Dr. D. Philip Sponenberg, one of the country’s leading researchers in horse color genetics, to determine how a horse with such rare features came to be. The Iceman’s Arabian blood was legitimate, but he still left the researchers puzzled.

“We had it tested by them, and they could not find the gene that was causing it,” Fullerton said. “The normal gene that causes splash white, or sabino, in Arabians is the SB1 gene, and he is negative for that. Sponenberg postulated that either it was a gene they had never uncovered before, or that it was maybe something closer to an overo gene because it was so unique in its patterning.

“I know everybody says there’s no such thing as an overo in Arabians,” she continued, “but that’s Sponenberg saying it, not me.”

Wisconsin is far from a fertile ground in regards to horse racing. It has no pari-mutuel tracks, and over a decade has passed since more than 20 Thoroughbred mares were bred there in a season. Arabian racing is on an even bigger island. Fullerton was instrumental in getting the occasional Arabian race to Canterbury Park in Minnesota, but the closest recurring meet was at Mount Pleasant.

With Lake Michigan in the way as the crow flies, getting to the middle of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula takes over eight hours, either looping north through the Upper Peninsula and down the Mackinac Bridge, or south through Chicago. The miles were immaterial to Fullerton for a chance to run her horses under her colors.

“We used to finish up the races on Sunday night at five o’clock, load the horses, get in the truck, and go on a 10-hour jaunt up and over the [Mackinac] Bridge,” she said. “I’ll tell you, at night, sometimes with the wind, that was a real interesting experience (across the bridge). You’d feel that old four-horse trailer behind you wiggling a bit and pulling the truck, but it was worth it. I loved racing. It was my passion.”

The Iceman had a secure future in any range of show disciplines and a life at stud afterward, given his pedigree and unique looks. What Fullerton saw from the young colt in the field, though, convinced her it was worth putting The Iceman on the long trailer ride, joining RFR Silver Crescent, by the same sire.

“He is the most agile animal I have ever met, and he’s competitive,” Fullerton said about The Iceman. “There are horses that when you start training them, they don’t get the game. They will run alongside the other horses, or they will run behind the other horses, and no amount of urging with hands, or legs, or a crop will get them to move out of position. They do not understand that the game is to catch and surpass. Some of them know it by instinct – Iceman and Crescent do it by instinct.

“A lot of stallions actually think they’ve got to herd the horses ahead of them. Not Iceman. He wants to be out in front saying, ‘I’m leading you to safety. Just follow me.’”

The Iceman debuted at Mount Pleasant as a 4-year-old, racing as a homebred for Pamela and trained by Jason.

It wasn’t as easy as entering the gate. While Pamela went to painstaking lengths to vet out The Iceman’s genetic credentials, having the proverbial needle in the haystack meant starting from square one with a new, skeptical crowd.

“They said he doesn’t belong there, he’s not an Arabian,” she said. “There were a lot of people who said he’s not a real Arabian because he had blue eyes. I would say, ‘Do you know how long Arabians have been blood typing and DNA testing? It’s longer than any other breed in the United States.’”

RFR The Iceman (#3) and Josh Ritschard in an Arabian race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

When he hit the track in competition for the first time on July 18, 2010, The Iceman’s blue eyes and pink nose were far from the only things that made him stand out from the crowd. Facing a racing breed that’s becoming less like the classic silhouette of an Arabian and closer to a smaller Thoroughbred, The Iceman’s small size, dishy face, and flagging tail were a throwback.

The Iceman ran fourth of six in his first start, finishing 24 1/4 lengths behind the winner after a troubled beginning. He was eventually promoted to third, but after the race was declared official.

The colt made his second and final start later that month on July 25. It was a more competitive effort, with The Iceman breaking among the lead runners, and eventually settling into third, 5 1/4 lengths off the winner. Like his first start, The Iceman was promoted to second, putting him on the board in both of his career starts.

While racing was Fullerton’s passion, it was difficult to gain a foothold in the Mount Pleasant colony, where the track’s best Arabian riders were usually spoken for by the regular trainers. Swimming against that current, paired with fatigue over racing her obscurely-bred horse against the French bloodlines that dominate the breed’s corner of the sport, led the Fullertons to take their horses back to Wisconsin.

Though they were no longer among the pari-mutuel ranks, The Iceman and Silver Crescent were not yet done with racing. The Fullertons took their Arabians to the Richland County Fairgrounds, about 130 miles south of Athens, in September 2010 to run Arabian-exclusive heats and open-breed races.

As humble as Mount Pleasant Meadows was, the track shone with the majesty of Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May compared with the central Wisconsin oval – small, tight, and without rails or a finish line. Starts were jog-ups made official by a whistle, and the riders’ stirrups wrapped low around their mounts’ ribs.

The Iceman raced twice that day, and finally got off the duck at the fairgrounds, besting stablemate RFR Polar Reign in a match race with an impressive rope-a-dope closing move.

The natural competitiveness of The Iceman shone through in that stretch drive. His blue eyes were even brighter, and his ears were pricked high as he drew away smoothly from Polar Reign. Perhaps it wasn’t as Fullerton planned, but for one lap in rural Wisconsin, the winning instinct she saw from the young horse in the field came through on the track.

In his other start, The Iceman was part of a four-horse field reuniting with Silver Crescent and Polar Reign. He took to the lead in that heat, but couldn’t keep it, eventually finishing third to Silver Crescent.

That was the end of Fullerton’s racetrack days for the time being, but her adventure with The Iceman was just beginning.

RFR The Iceman, the blue-eyed genetic equivalent of a Honus Wagner baseball card, didn’t become the racehorse Pamela Fullerton had imagined, but that was okay.

Even if he’d never run a competitive step, The Iceman’s two blue eyes paired with the horse’s near-impossible sabino overo coloring gave Fullerton a true one-of-a-kind endurance runner, show horse, and stallion prospect to enjoy for years to come.

Then, Fullerton found out she had cancer.

Fullerton had her greatest battle yet on her hands, squaring off with what would eventually become Stage 3 lung cancer, just as she had her two ex-racehorses prepared to compete at a national level: The Iceman and RFR Silver Crescent. With her health becoming her primary concern, Fullerton retired from both the judge’s bench and the saddle, and put The Iceman up for sale.

It was a harrowing decision for Fullerton, who had developed a bond with the gentle stallion she raised and took to the races. Times weren’t easy at the track, but that only served to make the pair tighter as they aimed to move into the next phase of their lives.

“During morning works at the track, a big Thoroughbred lost his rider, careened into us broadside at a full gallop, and knocked us off our feet,” Fullerton said. “I lay stunned with the wind knocked out of me while Icey scrambled to his feet and took off for the wide open gate leading into the backside.

“I figured we’d be lucky to capture him in one of the barns, hopefully before he fought with another stallion,” she continued. “Then suddenly, there was this big pink and white nose hitting me only somewhat gently in the face and blowing hot air into my gaping mouth. We limped off the track together.”

RFR The Iceman (#3) puts a head in front during an Arabian race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

Fullerton was soon contacted by Elizabeth Masters, who bought the horse at his considerable asking price sight unseen, and without a pre-purchase veterinary exam. Masters said she planned to use The Iceman for obstacle orienteering, based at her Aguanga, Calif., ranch.

Masters’ operation was widely known and spared no expense for its facilities, housing more than 100 horses, so Fullerton accepted the favorable deal, even if it was a little too easy. However, Fullerton’s background in law taught her if she felt like she won the transaction that handily, she needed to tie up loopholes to protect herself and the horse.

Fullerton added a superior clause to the sale contract stating if the buyer could not adequately care for the animal during the first two years after purchase, for any reason, ownership would revert back to Fullerton’s Resolute Farms, and he would return to Wisconsin without regard for purchase price, training, room and board, or any other post-transaction considerations that may have occurred. Essentially, if a single thing went sideways with Masters, the horse went home and she would be left holding the bag.

“I thought she’d never sign it,” Fullerton said. “She just signed it as if it were nothing.”

That clause likely saved The Iceman’s life.

About eight months after the horse arrived in California, Masters was on the run from the federal government for embezzling $5.74 million from her employer, the clothing company Performance Apparel Group, over the course of nine years.

As the company’s financial controller, Masters filled her seemingly limitless war chest by writing more than 700 checks from the company beyond her own salary and depositing them in her personal account.

Masters was fired by the company in 2011 after her forgery was discovered. Afterward, she raised money to keep her ranch in business by asking for donations under the guise of treating her late-stage cancer, a claim that investigators later found no evidence to be true. By that time, though, a sympathetic horse community that didn’t know the full story had already given her thousands of dollars.

“I felt so sorry for her that at one point I even discussed repaying at least part of his purchase price to this poor, distraught young woman,” Fullerton said. “It was all a con.”

When her fraudulent financial hail-Mary didn’t pan out, Masters liquidated her assets and moved to New Mexico, where she was working as an accountant before being arrested for her theft in California and sentenced to nine years in prison.

The government seized everything it could from Masters to balance out her debt, from the clothes in her drawers to the drawers themselves. The roughly $500,000 generated from piecing apart the operation hardly put a dent into the millions that Masters owed, and many of the horses on the property were dispersed to rescue groups.

The Iceman, however, remained on the property. While the other horses did not have a dollar value high enough to keep feeding until they could be sold, The Iceman’s unique genetic makeup made him an asset. The only problem was, when the feds raided the estate, Fullerton said they left with everything to feed and care for The Iceman except for The Iceman himself.

“Icey was the only stallion at the farm and none of the rescue places would take him,” Fullerton said. “He’s at this place all alone. They’ve come in and confiscated the hay, the feed. I had someone going in from a town 15 miles away every day to feed this horse, while I’m fighting with the U.S. Attorney General and California Attorney General over who owns this horse.”

Fullerton dug in with the Attorneys General, claiming the superior clause she placed in the sale contract with Masters overrode any right Uncle Sam had to the horse. Meanwhile, The Iceman was in isolation on the California farm, and went about a month with minimal human or equine contact in a small paddock.

Fullerton was finally able to wrangle The Iceman back to Wisconsin, but he returned to Resolute Farm a much different horse from when he had left.

“The fact that he had been there alone for 35-40 days turned his personality into a snake,” Fullerton said. “He just hated everybody. He’d lost 100 to 120 pounds. He was really looking ragged.

“My son, Jason who is a big guy, was walking by his paddock one day, and Icey grabbed him by the shoulder, picked him up, shook him, and tossed him,” she continued. “If Jason hadn’t had on multiple layers of winter clothing, I hesitate to think what would have happened.”

Fullerton was still grappling with cancer – not a made-up cancer – and suddenly faced a new struggle with a once-friendly horse who she had fought to save that had become vicious from neglect. Getting The Iceman back to physical and emotional sea-level was going to be a challenge.

Fortunately, about a week after his run-in with Jason, The Iceman began to show signs of acclimating to his surroundings. Perhaps the bond Fullerton had built with the horse was stronger than she had thought.

“Every time I went out there, I would talk and talk to him, and he would be almost raging up and down the paddock,” Fullerton said. “I was working on the other side of the fence, and all of a sudden, I could feel him behind me, and I heard this huge sigh.

“I turned around, and he was back – back to being himself, back to being the horses that was ridden in endurance races by a 13-year-old, back to being the horse that people would ride beside for 25 miles and never know he was a stallion when they were on a mare in heat,” she continued. “It was an amazing transformation. It was physical. You could see it in his posture, in his eyes. Now, he’s just our boy again.”

With everyone back on the same page, The Iceman got back to work. Under Jason’s training, the blue-eyed stallion hit the endurance circuit, competing in limited distance races in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota.

The Iceman’s crowning achievement in endurance racing came during the 2012 Northern Highland ride in Conover, Wisc., where he beat seven rivals in a 25-mile race. He raced six times in 2012 and 2013 according to American Endurance Ride Conference records, and finished third or better on four occasions, sometimes with Jason in the saddle himself.

When his endurance career came to a close, The Iceman got comfortable at Resolute Farm as a stallion. Fullerton said he passes on at least one blue eye in at least half his foals, regardless of the color of the mare.

In time, Fullerton got some more good news. Her cancer was in remission. Five years later, Fullerton was given a clean bill of health, and The Iceman was set to be part of her comeback.

“Now, they tell me I’m home free, so we have spent the last four months getting back in shape as a business and as a family to restart these guys next season,” she said in early 2018. “We just began dressage training, because we’re to start showing as a sport horse this spring under saddle.

“Right away, they understand they’re back at work,” Fullerton continued. “It’s just such a happy experience to be on a horse that says, ‘Oh, thank God I’m back working again.’ We already have them entered in the spring sport horse shows in southern Wisconsin, so we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to take some horses that are true performance horses down there.”

The Iceman’s days of going fast are behind him, but Pamela and Jason said they still saw racetrack potential in the horse, in the form of his foals. The Iceman and Silver Crescent were the last horses raced under the Resolute colors at a pari-mutuel track, now a decade ago, and the itch is starting to come back.

The biggest thing standing in their way is geography. With Mount Pleasant Meadows long gone, along with its replacement, Detroit-area Hazel Park Raceway, there are no nearby options for the Wisconsin family.

Still, this has not completely deterred the Fullertons from their dream of racing foals by The Iceman. When this story was first published in 2018, Jason had just become aware of the Heritage Arabian Racing Club, a racing organization founded in 2015 that offers a global series of races for Arabians of traditional bloodlines – bloodlines that flow through The Iceman.

“When Jason heard about HARC he first thought of RFR The Ice Maiden, Iceman’s daughter out of RFR Morning Rain, Silver Crescent’s half-sister,” Pamela said in 2018. “She is currently being trained in competitive trail and dressage. It wouldn’t take a lot to turn her into a fine race mare.”

The Ice Maiden, then a 6-year-old, didn’t have her sire’s piercing blue eyes, but she’s got his leg, if not a little more, and his competitive spirit. She never made the racetrack, but Arabian racing returned to Arapahoe Park last year after a hiatus and there are steady circuits for the breed in Texas, Delaware, and California. If The Iceman’s foals continue to show that fire to compete, and if their talent makes it worth the travel, there are places for them to run.

Fitting then, that The Iceman’s foals would be the product of a farm with the word “resolute” right in the name. That same spirit – that resolution – helped The Iceman and Fullerton weather storms that would have folded weaker contemporaries. Now, they’ll all move forward together to continue proving that RFR The Iceman is more than just a pretty face.

This story was originally published in 2018. Reprinted and updated with permission from Arabian Finish Line.

The post More Than Just A Pretty Face: The Saga Of Genetic Anomaly RFR The Iceman appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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