09/05/2003 12:00AM

After many twists, son follows father's path


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - When trainer Brian Morgan gave rider Chad Beckon a leg up on Desert Wise, the No. 1 horse in Friday's first race at Woodbine, it was more than just a case of another "bug boy" setting out on his first career adventure.

Chad Beckon, 23, is the son of the late Dan Beckon, a prominent jockey on the Ontario circuit whose shocking death at age 35 on July 2, 1987, is still viewed in some quarters as the darkest unsolved mystery in the history of local horse racing.

Police determined that Dan Beckon's death had been caused by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and although an inquest supported Beckon had committed suicide, a private investigation commissioned by the family and several journalistic inquiries all raised serious doubts about that conclusion.

Chad Beckon, who was just 7 years old at the time, knew about the fact of his father's death but little of the circumstances or the aftermath.

"I don't remember very much," said Beckon. "I didn't really understand what death was, but I knew he wasn't coming back.

"My dad had built a farm; he was planning on training. He was only going to ride two more seasons."

Beckon, an only child, and his mother, Diane, left the farm and moved into the nearby town of Bolton, where they still reside together. While the subject of his father often naturally arose, Beckon said the unpleasant aspects of the past were not dwelt upon.

"We talked about it," he said. "Whenever I had a question, Mom tried to explain it the best she could."

Considering the circumstances, it would not have been surprising if the young Beckon had decided to pursue any other profession but that of his father.

And that appeared to be the case for many years as Chad Beckon graduated from high school, had a brief fling at college, and then held a number of different jobs before settling into what seemed to be a solid career as a tool and die maker.

"All I did was work, 75 hours a week," said Beckon. "Then, I just quit one day. I just wasn't enjoying myself."

Beckon, at a loose end, came to the racetrack and worked for a brief time as a hotwalker for trainer Josie Carroll. Shortly thereafter, he went to work at nearby Huntington Stud Farm, where farm manager Dan Mooney encouraged him to try his hand at riding.

"Dan Mooney put me on my first horse, 2 1/2 years ago," said Beckon. "I never thought I'd be able to do it, being so late into it. I had my first goal - to see if I could even gallop."

Beckon spent four months learning the ropes with Mooney and then headed for Florida in the fall of 2001, where he exercised horses for Sam-Son Farm.

"Ernie Gerber, the farm manager, always gave me encouragement," said Beckon. "He told me I could be a jockey."

Returning to Ontario in the spring, Beckon spent most of the season as a freelancer working for Sam-Son until he was offered a job by trainer John Ross in the fall.

At the conclusion of the 2002 meeting, Beckon went back to Ocala, Fla., and continued galloping horses for Ross, who convinced him that he was ready to take the next step.

Beckon actually had hoped to launch his new career here early this spring, but had to complete a two-year term as an exercise rider before applying for his jockey's license.

In the meantime, Beckon had been approached by Mickey Walls, the Eclipse and Sovereign Award-winning rider who retired earlier this year and who also was looking to move into a new profession, as a jockey agent.

About a month ago, Beckon left his position as an exercise rider in the Ross barn and began free-lancing.

"Mickey has been organizing horses, and just kind of getting out there, trying to get in people's eyes," said Beckon, who completed the final requirements for his license last Sunday and had three mounts on his coming-out day here Friday.

Beckon has no doubts about his chosen career. "From the minute I started working with horses, I fell in love with it," said Beckon.

"I've not yet once woke up and thought that this was a job. I wake up every day at 3:30, without even a hem and a haw, like 'Oh, no.'

"I love this. It's the greatest feeling."