Any horseplayer might dream about getting a hot tip on a winning longshot just before Christmas.

For a local bettor named Pete, the dream came true. The inside information he received on Poor Charlie, a cheap springter at Laurel, meant thousands of dollars to him -- although not in quite the way he would have imagined.

Pete's friend Rico had claimed the thoroughbred for $2,500 after he had scored three straight victories at Charles Town. After Poor Charlie ran one bad race for his new owner, Rico confided to Peter that he thought he would win his next start.

Peter drove to West Virginia and bet $200 at odds of 8 to 1. The gate opened, Poor Charlie took about two strides and jockey Edmund Ford pulled him up. Pete never even got a run for his money; he grumbled all the way back to Washington.

But a couple weeks later he saw Rico at a party and learned the inside story. "The horse has some physical problems," Rico said, "and when he came out of the gate he stumbled badly. The jockey thought he had bowed a tendon and did the prudent thing: he pulled him up. But when the horse came back to the barn we saw he was okay."

Rico said he had sent Poor Charlie to Maryland and put him in the care of a very sharp trainer, Joe Deveraux. After Poor Charlie worked a half mile in a creditable 49 4/5 seconds, Devereux entered him in a $3,000 claiming race and told Rico, "This horse is fit. There's no speed in the field and they're going to have to catch him."

Not only was Poor Charlie in sharp condition, but the dismal top line of his past performance guaranteed that his odds would be formidable.

Poor Charlie was entered in the first race at Laurel, and Pete decided that he would drive out to bet $30 to win and place and wheel him for $5 in the daily double.

He has briefly forgotten that Laurel had advanced its post time from 12:30 to noon, and so when he set out from Washington shortly before 11:30 he knew he would have to hurry.He had driven about two blocks when a Honda in front of him was cut off by another vehicle, forcing the driver to slam on the brakes suddenly. Pete hit his brakes -- but too late. He smashed into the other car, caving in the front end of his Lincoln.

As the police arrived and began to fill out accident forms, Pete was glancing anxiously at his watch, and quickly realizing that he was never going to get to Laurel on time. He knows enough about the way the Goddess of Wagering operates to anticipate what was going to happen that afternoon.

"There's was no doubt in my mind that the horse was going to get there," he said. "I was scared to call the track and get the result."

Pete went back to his office, phoned and heard that Poor Charlie had paid $61.40, $12.80 and $10. The daily double had returned $822.40. Pete would have collected $3,793 for the wagers he had planned.

Besides failing to collect that sum, he has received a $35 traffic ticket; he had done $1,800 worth of damage to his car; he had done $900 in damage to the Honda, and the other driver was suing him for $5,000 for a whiplash injury. This was not quite the kind of Christmas bonanza he had been dreaming of.