11/20/2003 12:00AM

Want some inside info? Here it is

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Horseplayers love inside information more than Martha Stewart likes impending stock news from her broker. They listen intently for behind-the-scenes tips, rumors, and information not in the past performances.

On Wall Street, insider trading can lead to a monetary penalty and jail time. At the racetrack, it can lead to financial profit . . . or ruin.

Insider trading occurs when someone with an intimate knowledge of a business makes an investment decision based on information that is not available to the general public.

Thank goodness such rules do not apply to horseplayers. They would be locking one of us up every day.

Not that bettors don't occasionally pay a penalty for inside knowledge. A trainer tells you that he likes how well his 2-year-old first-timer has trained, and only later when he finishes up the track do we hear that eight other trainers also loved their horse.

I have a few rules when it comes to inside information. Trust no one, until he proves himself trustworthy. Don't ask anyone for a tip. Let him volunteer it. And remember that if someone is telling you, he is telling everyone.

Mainly, trust yourself. Believe what your eyes see and, only occasionally, what your ears hear.

With that in mind, pssst . . . I've got a tip for you. Saturday. Churchill Downs. Ninth race. The aptly named Quick Tip.

Quick Tip embodies a perfect kind of inside information, because I was there, saw it with my own eyes.

Tuesday morning I witnessed her final work for Saturday's Cardinal Handicap at Churchill Downs. Stopwatch in hand and binoculars to my eyes, I watched her breeze an easy half-mile around the dogs over the Churchill Downs turf course.

I timed her opening quarter in around 27.80 seconds. She was running easily and going slowly, although not as slowly as it appeared. The dogs were up to protect the inner portion of the turf, which means that Quick Tip and the others working on grass that morning were 10 or 15 paths off the rail.

When you are 10 wide around the turn you cannot breeze as quickly as on the rail. So times are deceptive when a horse is running on the turn. The dogs do not affect the final quarter-mile, which is run over a straightaway.

What matters in every workout, especially a turf work, is how a horse finishes. From this standpoint, Quick Tip lit up the stopwatch.

She was asked to finish well under a hand ride, and she did. I timed her last quarter in 22.80 seconds, give or take a fifth here or there due to the difficulty of judging when she hit the quarter pole with the dogs so far out in the course.

When looking at the past performances for the Cardinal, the only thing listed in Quick Tip's past performances regarding her workout is her time of 50.60 seconds.

That does not tell the inside story. Her workout time was deceptively quick. Only two other works took place on the grass that morning. Full Spectrum, a short-distance, stakes-winning turf mare, went a half-mile in 53.60 seconds, and Spectacular Dove, an allowance filly, went five furlongs in 1:05.40.

Of course, it would be overlooking the big picture to support Quick Tip solely on the basis of one workout. Her quick work on the grass does not mean she is the best mare in Saturday's Cardinal.

She may not be. Although Quick Tip won this race in 2002, this year's race is stronger. Riskaverse is a Grade 1 winner, and Bien Nicole has been one of the best turf mares in training this year. Those are only two of the 11 opponents Quick Tip must outrun.

What the quick work might prove is that Quick Tip is poised for a peak effort, something her recent form does not as readily suggest. Although she won her last race - an allowance at Churchill Downs - she did so in workmanlike fashion and earned an 87 Beyer Speed Figure, her lowest since April of 2002.

On the other hand, if the quick turf work indeed suggests she is ready for her best, then she might realistically run one of her top Beyers in the 96-100 range. That might be enough to win a second straight Cardinal, or to crash the exotics at an attractive price.

If the work doesn't mean a thing and she runs poorly, I'll consider it the penalty for insider trading.