05/05/2005 11:00PM

Beckon picks up where he left off

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FORT ERIE, Ontario - Apprentice Chad Beckon surprised everyone, including himself, when he emerged from the opening weekend at Fort Erie atop the rider standings.

Beckon, with five wins, was fast out of the gate, capturing the first three races of the 108-day meet on Sunday. He added two more Monday.

Next in line was Francine Villeneuve, who is Canada's all-time winningest woman jockey. Her three victories brought her to 835 lifetime wins.

No other rider scored more than once.

Heading into August 2004, Beckon was experiencing a lackluster season. He had just three wins from 121 starts.

"I was having a hard time at Woodbine," said Beckon, 24, a native of Toronto whose late father, Dan, was a top rider in the 1970's and 1980's. "I wasn't riding enough there. It made me realize I should come here to learn more and to ride more."

With the move, Beckon got hot. He won 12 races in August.

"I've always been confident, but you need the horse," he said.

The meet ended Sept. 6 but Beckon planted the seeds for a big 2005 meet.

Poznansky shrugs off slow start

Last year's leading rider at the Fort, Neil Poznansky, had but one win from his 14 starters.

"It's just like last year," said Poznansky. "I started slow but look how I ended up. I am in perfect stride. Over the winter I went to Payson Park and galloped horses for John Kimmel."

Rombis runners are ready

Debbie Rombis, with three, and Campbell Wilson, with two, are the only trainers who saddled more than one winner during the opening weekend.

The conventional wisdom of horseplayers, at this early stage, is to wager on horses who have winter-raced or wintered down south. These runners are perceived to have a fitness edge.

The Wilson winners came from Oaklawn Park in Arkansas. But the locals can't be discounted, as Rombis has proven. All her runners wintered on her nearby 86-acre farm in Ridgeway, which houses an indoor arena and a half-mile training track. And there is a walking machine as well.

"I started training in January," said Rombis. "The four and a half and five-furlong races should be a breeze for my horses. If they're not fit now, they never will be."

Boudreau back from Texas

Daniel Boudreau who scored 41 wins here in 2003 as an apprentice, has rejoined the rider colony here.

"I took a break for a year," said Boudreau, 25, who rode in Texas last winter. "We'll see how it goes here. If it doesn't work out, I might go back to Retama Park."