It took me about three years of handicapping to discover something that everyone should know about playing the dogs: Almost everything works for a while. I had been going over programs from Lincoln, later called Twin Rivers, a track with decent dogs where speed mattered. It closed years ago, which is a shame, but that's another story.

Anyway, I was going over past programs, trying to figure out how to narrow the dogs down to three dogs and then trying to handicap the winner from those three. So, for every race, I underlined the dogs with the best time in their last race. Then I handicapped and picked the dog I thought should win. Then I checked the results.

I was amazed when I discovered that even when I didn't pick the winner, the dog I picked and the other two dogs with best times in their last races were very often the quiniela and at least two or three times on a program, they'd be the tri and pay well. I couldn't believe my eyes.

Could it be this simple, I thought? Had I been making it too complicated? Was the secret to making money at the dog track at Lincoln just a matter of boxing the three dogs with the best times in their last races in quiniela and trifecta boxes? I was flabbergasted and so eager to try it out, that I only did a few more programs - which it worked on - before taking it to the track for a test drive.

I started on a Wednesday and hit six quinielas and two tris to the tune of $126 more than I spent. This was magic! There was no racing on Thursday, so I waited and went back on Friday. Same thing, only I didn't make as much. Only $80 profit, but any profit was better than the losing streak I'd been on.

On Saturday, there were two programs and I handicapped both of them very carefully, and then went to the track with enough money to play both of them. I bought my tickets and sat up in the stands away from everyone else so that I could really watch the races and keep track of what was going on. Only, for me, there was nothing going on.

I cashed one quiniela ticket for $18 on the second program and nothing on the first. I was down over $200 and the wonderful system I had discovered didn't pick one quiniela or trifecta and very few winners. When it did pick a winner, some longshot would get in for second and I wouldn't get the quiniela. I was really discouraged, but I told myself that I just had to be patient and keep trying.

I tried until I had blown over $500 and then I came to my senses and realized that it wasn't going to work. The simple system I had "discovered" was just a fluke, a temporary thing that I took for a pattern. If I had checked it out on more past programs, I would have realized that without spending so much money.

That was my first introduction to how easy it is to think that you've found the secret to winning at the dog track with some simple formula. It was also the first time that I realized that - at the track - as in life, almost everything works some of the time. But not all of the time.

The trick with these little trends that pop up is to ride them like a wave while they’re cresting, but get off before they crash onto the shore and leave you high and dry. If you notice something like this at the track, there’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of it, but don’t bet too much on it and don’t think it’s a substitute for handicapping.