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February 16, 1959
Foxhall Keene, gentleman sportsman of a gilded age, became a living legend in America at the turn of the century. Here is the amazing story of the man who would never stay down
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February 16, 1959

'throw Your Heart Over'

Foxhall Keene, gentleman sportsman of a gilded age, became a living legend in America at the turn of the century. Here is the amazing story of the man who would never stay down

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On September 25, 1941 death came to a lonely, penniless 71-year-old man in a cottage on an estate near the village of Ayer's Cliff in the province of Quebec. His body bore the marks and scars of 17 serious injuries sustained in a long and reckless career. His memory held many a scene of bright color and swift excitement enacted in Ireland, England, France and the U.S. His almost incredibly appropriate name was Foxhall Parker Keene, and he represented a vanishing breed: he was the last of the sportsmen who had flourished in the grand manner of America's gilded age.

That was an age when hundreds of Americans were able to live in real palaces, attended by troops of servants, amid the glitter of genuine diamonds and the glint of actual gold. It was also a sportsman's age; and in it Foxhall Keene became a living legend. A sharp amateur boxer, an expert golfer and one of the best wing shots of his generation; a blood at Harvard and a nailer over the hunting country of Leicestershire; a champion steeplechaser; a 10-goal poloist; a winner of all the important jumping trophies at the horse shows; a shrewd appraiser of Thoroughbreds and heir presumptive to a great American stable, and an automobile racer undiscouraged by a series of hair-raising wrecks—all these and more was "Foxie" Keene in the sunshiny days of his prime.

He was born in San Francisco, where his earliest memory was of running after a horse. When he was 7 years old, little Foxhall was told that he and his family were moving to a place called "the East." This was all right with the boy, as long as he could keep with him on the train the hamper containing his favorite bantam fighting cocks. Foxhall might have taken a live alligator as traveling companion if he had wished, for a special car was reserved for the Keene party. This was a tribute to the wealth and power of Foxhall's father, James Robert Keene, a speculator who had piled up $6 million in mining stock operations and was now establishing his family in a big house on Bellevue Avenue, Newport.

Here, one bright morning soon after the Keenes' arrival, a great event took place: Foxhall was called out to meet his first pony. As the delighted boy approached, James Keene stood by to see that all went well. To start getting acquainted, Foxhall patted the pony's neck. The animal rolled its eyes back at him in a reasonably friendly way.

"Well, ride him!" cried Mr. Keene, who was never noted for patience. "Get up on him!"

There was something the pony did not like in Mr. Keene's voice; and a moment later when the man lifted the boy and plumped him on the pony's back, he bolted and ran flat out over the flower beds, across the lawn and up Bellevue Avenue to his former stable a quarter-mile away. At the finish, 7-year-old Foxhall was still on board, clinging to the mane.

Newport had plenty to offer a boy who could so precociously show what it took to be a rider. For one thing, the town at that time was a great polo center. It is true that the officials at the polo grounds would not allow children to play, on the reasonable assumption that they might get hurt. But Bellevue Avenue was wide, and here Foxhall and other boys would practice on their ponies for hours, pounding an old polo ball up and down, with ground rules for strokes between the wheels of a dowager's brougham or landau.

People as well as games were fascinating to a child at Newport in that era when picturesque and fullblown characters were plentiful. One was a foreigner, a man standing 6 feet 4 inches tall and reputed to be a cousin of the German Emperor, who called himself Count Echelstein. This personage figured in a scene which had a strong influence in shaping Foxhall's ideas of admirable conduct. Echelstein bet he could beat another man from the balcony of the Casino down to the sidewalk. At the starter's call the other man broke for the stairs, but Echelstein coolly stepped over the balcony rail. He fell 14 feet to the pavement, where he lay in the shock of a broken arm—the winner. Foolhardy though it was, this sort of gameness would always make a powerful appeal to Foxhall Keene.

Meanwhile, in Wall Street, James Keene was able to demonstrate another brand of gameness after an encounter with the widely feared market manipulator, Jay Gould. When he first heard of Keene's arrival, Gould had growled, "Keene came east in a private car. I'll send him back in a boxcar." Biding his time, Gould invited Keene to join a pool in Western Union, then dumped him for a staggering loss. A lesser man might have gone completely under; but Keene picked himself up, vowed he would never again be "left at the post," and proceeded to show the world he was . still on his feet by further expanding his stable of fine horses, one of which won the classic Grand Prix de Paris in 1881.

Foxhall was 9 years old when the first Keene entry took to the turf, carrying the colors, white with blue spots, which were to be renowned for almost a third of a century. The scene was Jerome Park, the fashionable track recently founded by Mr. Leonard Jerome, from whom an English grandson, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, got one of his names. American racing was dominated by horses of the Lorillard family, founders of Tuxedo Park, and few believed that the Keene entry would be a threat in the Withers Stakes. But when the race was run, the white with blue spots finished on top and the Lorillard colors were trailing in the dust.

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