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Getting Ready to Go…to the Races!

Note: This is GRTG’s first guest post! From nicolle neulist, the mind behind Blinkers Off and major fan of cute horse noses.

There are as many ways of getting ready to go to the racetrack as there are racegoers.

The Ascot Gavotte set may wear their fanciest hats. More casual types may pack a lunch and a picnic blanket. An photographer may gather a selection of lenses.

As a writer and handicapper, I gather my thoughts most of all.

Handicapping is the art of analysing horse races and picking winners. This cannot begin until I know which horses are running in which races, something that typically happens Wednesday for a Saturday race day. Once the list of races for the day (the card) is known, I can buy summaries of past performances (abbreviated “PPs”). Abbreviated past performance data is printed in the track programs; I used that to handicap when I first started going to the races. However, getting it in advance allows more time to handicap the card and better options for thorough data.

A page of past performances from the 2015 American Turf Stakes with my notes on individual horses, a quick map of their preferred running styles (speed, stalk, mid, close), and my selections in the race.  My top selection, World Approval, finished third.  My second choice, A Lot, finished second.  I had the race figured for an off-pace type -- but a different one, Divisidero, hit the wire first.

A page of past performances from the 2015 American Turf Stakes with my notes on individual horses, a quick map of their preferred running styles (speed, stalk, mid, close), and my selections in the race. My top selection, World Approval, finished third. My second choice, A Lot, finished second. I had the race figured for an off-pace type — but a different one, Divisidero, hit the wire first.

I handicap using pen and paper. I use my computer for race charts, race replays, and pedigree research, but I make all of my notes by hand on actual, physical paper. Some people swear by tablets, and I used one for about five months last year. However, someone pilfered it on the Pink Line. I reverted to paper, handicapped more confidently than I did on the tablet, and decided the rude little rascal had done me a favour.

Thank you, thief!

Everyone handicaps differently; even my own methodology has evolved over the years. The first thing I consider when handicapping a race is the pace. Different horses have different running styles, and that can have a dramatic impact. Can one horse take the lead, set a slow pace, and sprint away when closers mount their runs? Will two or more horses fight for a lead early and tire late? Speed also matters: is a horse fast enough to compare well with the others in the field?

There are other questions, too. Have they raced recently? Does the horse like the distance? Do they prefer running on dirt, turf, or a synthetic surface? Do they perform uncommonly well or poorly at the specific racetrack? There are dozens of factors, all of which I must weigh before even showing up to the track.

Handicapping requires weighing all of these factors across the entire set of horses running, known as the field of the race. A short field may only have five or six horses; a full field can have ten, twelve, more. An eight-race card with relatively short fields can take me three hours or so to handicap. More races and larger fields mean more time; handicapping a race card takes at least an evening.

Once I have handicapped the card, I write. I focus on spot plays, meaning either single races or small groups of them linked by a particular jockey, trainer, or sire, in my Chicago Railbird column. At Blinkers Off, I write full-card picks and analysis.

If the card contains a stakes race, I must prepare a little more. I write stakes race recaps for Picks and Ponderings, so I have to prepare my post-race interview plans with the connections: trainers, jockeys, and sometimes even owners of the horses in the race. These are like the post-game interviews you see on TV after any sporting event.

Some of the questions cannot be planned, as they relate to specifics of how the race unfolds on the track. However, a good recap covers more than just what happened on the track: it finds a reason why the race meant something special for someone connected to the horse. You never know who will win the race until it happens, so preparing for a stakes day requires looking for an interesting story around everyone in the field. This all happens before I even show up to the track.

Once race day rolls around, much of the work has been done. I have handicapped the card. I have likely written my preview of the day’s action. I sometimes have to re-handicap races if a key horse is pulled from the race, or if a race has been rained off the grass course onto a different track surface.

I pack my bag with the essentials for online race reporting: my laptop, phone, chargers, auxiliary phone battery, and the PPs I marked up earlier in the week (and a pen).

My race day kit.

My race day kit.

With respect to clothing, I do not wear my day-to-day jeans and a t-shirt to the racetrack, but neither do I go the seersucker suit route. A nicer shirt and pants work most days; a business suit sees action on Arlington Million day. My hair, however, always stays some fun colour. Sometimes, this is racing-related. So far, the only such reason I have changed my hair has been for the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes this year. For both, I dyed my hair green to match the colours worn by Keen Ice’s rider.

My green hair and I say hello from the Belmont Park paddock, a few hours before Keen Ice finished third in the Belmont Stakes.

My green hair and I say hello from the Belmont Park paddock, a few hours before Keen Ice finished third in the Belmont Stakes.

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Going for a Walk

Yesterday. Yesterday, I was in a shitty mood. Often, a walk helps me correct this, so I went for a walk. But it’s frustrating to go unprepared, so I take this:

Ok, I don’t actually always take these things, but it’s what I took yesterday.

A lot of it is self-explanatory. I burn easily, so I took my favorite sunblock and a hat I got from REI that has built in sunproofing. I took my hotel room key, because otherwise I wasn’t getting back in. A bag to carry all this shit in. An iPad, because I thought I might sit and read Simple Blogging somewhere. A wallet, because sitting somewhere really requires paying table rent.

I also carry an external phone battery wherever I go. I’m on Twitter a lot and I take a number of photos with my phone, so my phone has even odds of dying on any given day. The battery is more reliable than trying to hunt for an outlet somewhere. The blue cable on top lives in the pouch with the battery, usually. I picked blue because it’s an abnormal color for the cord, and thus I’ll always know where it, at least, goes. This minimizes hunting for a cord when I’m headed out.

I carry two notebooks and three pens. One pen was a gift from my friend Lauren. It’s bright pink and I love it. The other two are back up pens, in case I lose one. The purple notebook is for a rotating to-do list when I can’t get to my computer (mostly “big” ones, not “pick up milk”) and the green one is for taking notes of any sort.

The business cards, I carry in a money clip. It’s one of two things inherited it from my grandfather when he passed away in 2007. It spent a long time rattling around my home before I finally found a use for it. Now it has a use, and I smile to use it.

I took things out of my purse too. Sometimes getting ready to go means knowing what to leave behind. (And I’m shitty at that.)

The collapsible bag usually heads out with me, in case I unexpectedly hit the grocery store or something. Being as we were in a hotel room, that wasn’t going to happen. The bag was just going to take up space in an already limited purse.

The yak is from my friends Jen and Katherine. When I have a moment, I’m going to put it on my laptop. I don’t know where the sharks came from, but I got them at the same time. The shark with rockets reminds me of my first trip to Kenya, so on it goes as well. The other shark will make its way to my shark-obsessed friend. Someday…

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Our Coffee Set-Up

Bill and I are beverage nerds. I have a whole section on MetaCookbook dedicated to “beer”, but it’s where I put anything beverage-related. While beer IS the beverage I obsess about most, coffee is the beverage Bill obsesses on the most. And I can’t blame him; now that I’ve had a ton of exposure, I realize it can be a damn fine beverage.

I won’t lie. I am far pickier about coffee than Bill is. That said, he is far more capable of understanding the nuances of coffee. Either way, we both appreciate good coffee. Bill’s favorite way to consume it is “at someplace new”. My favorite way to consume it is while still in my PJs, discussing the plans for the day.

Thus, despite the fact that we probably try every coffee shop near where we stay, we always carry beans and a brewing method for me. Not that Bill doesn’t partake too. Just saying.

Our coffee set-up. Aeropress, filters, immersion heater, beans, and a hand grinder.

Our coffee set-up. Aeropress, filters, immersion heater, beans, and a hand grinder.

This is the basic set. We bring an Aeropress, a hand grinder for the beans, beans (of course), a metal filter for the press, paper filters for the press, and an immersion heater.

You might be surprised to learn what the most important piece of equipment is, as far as I’m concerned.

The immersion heater.

The immersion heater.

Yup. The immersion heater. I’m sure you expected it to be the Aeropress, but that’s secondary to the immersion heater. Why? Because I also like tea (more than coffee, in fact), and it’s shockingly hard to get hot water in a hotel room. And when you can get hot water, it’s usually coffee-flavored. That makes tea terrible.

Everything else is important, but secondary. And, frankly, all of the rest of it is about equally necessary. I can’t brew coffee if I can’t grind beans, nor if I don’t have a coffee maker. The coffee maker doesn’t function without filters.

Metal filter for an Aeropress.

Metal filter for an Aeropress.

The most optional thing is the metal filter. Personally, I like to carry it. Bill isn’t a fan of it, but doesn’t mind carrying it. It allows a bit more acidity through, as well as more sediment and oil than the paper filters. If you prefer a french press at home, this might be the better option for you than paper filters. If you’re a Chemex or drip machine drinker, the paper filters might be for you.

Either way, have some coffee. I suggest some in your pajamas and some out in the world. Others? They might say only go out in the world. Up to you, but I do agree with those others; don’t miss what the world is offering. That’s part of the fun of travel, after all.

Update: I have already had to improve this list, specifically with a mug.

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Pack This!

“Well, where’s your list? This is the time when it really shines.”

That was Bill, the night before we left on one of the longest, and most complicated, tripa we’ve taken in awhile. The list he’s referring to is the “Pack This!” note pad.

I got it more years ago than I can recall. (Like, back when “PDA + charger” was a reasonable thing to list.”) I used it for awhile, stopped, and one day picked it back up again. Since that second, I am nearly lost without it for packing, despite doing a LOT of traveling.

This is because it’s so good for the odds and ends. Honestly, you’re unlikely to forget underwear on a trip, but you might forget soap if you’re in a hurry. Or, if you’re having to take something out of your norm (in a recent case for us, undershirts for Bill), it might remind you to pack them.

I dislike that there are many slots taken up by things that are not very relevant to me most people any more, like “film”, but I end up just crossing those out. In some cases, I write in that spot something that’s not in there that I do need. For example, “hair towels.” My hair is bright blue right now, usually bright green. I try to take towels to sleep on and to dry my hair on, so as to not stain my hosts’ bedding.

“Hair towels” aren’t exactly “clothes,” but I tend to pack them in the same way, and it’s an empty spot on the pad to write them in.

Obviously, you can make your own list. And if you travel as much as Bill and I do, maybe you (we) should. But if you’re like me, that’s never going to actually happen. That’s on the priority list in the same general vicinity as teaching myself how to make adorable beer mug cupcakes. AKA: Under “Practically Pipe Dreams.”

A scan of our note from packing for this trip, to give you a sense of how I use them.

A sample page of how I use this notepad.

A sample page of how I use this notepad.

“The time it really shines” is that night before you go, you’re exhausted, and you’re pretty sure you have everything, but a double check would help. Frankly, if you just look at the stuff you’ve already packed, your brain will lie to you and say it’s fine. A list (this list) makes sure you doing forget the dental floss. Or the undershirts. Or your niece’s birthday gift.

If I ever do make a list for my travels, I’ll let you know. And if I ever make those cupcakes, I’ll post about them over at MetaCookbook. For now, I’ll use this list.

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What Am I Doing Here?

Hello!

Welcome to Getting Ready to Go. I’m calling this my second blog, though it’s really another in a list of many I’ve kept over the years. Most have been lost to the winds of the Internet (Oh, Internet), but the most recent finally took. It’s MetaCookbook, and I have run it for five years. As of today!

Yes, my present to myself for five years of hard blogging work was… more blogging work. 🙂

Bill at SeaTac airport. He's very put upon as we get ready to go to San Francisco. Not because we're going, but because I always take pictures of him. That's what he gets for being so loveable.

Bill at SeaTac airport. He’s very suspicious of this “more blogging work” thing.

So, Getting Ready to Go is my second blog! I’m excited. My plan for this space is to explore the transitions in time making up much of life. What transitions? Well, the blog name might make it obvious, but in case not, these transitions are everything from the small “getting ready to walk the dogs” and the big “leaving for a three week trip.1” Were we to move, it would show what preparing for that looks like. It will feature a selection of photos and explanations of each piece in the photo(s). In the process, I’ll make recommendations for useful travel and/or transition-related objects.

I’m a little nervous about starting a second blog, I have to be honest. I know what I want to do, but like any artist I wonder:

Can I perfectly translate what’s in my head to this medium?

No. Let’s just get that out of the way now. No. No one ever can. But it’s also true that it’s useless if I keep it “perfect” in my head. So out it comes, in all its messiness. I truly believe there’s fun and usefulness in this idea, even if I cannot reach into my head and toss it onto the Internet precisely. The good news is that I’ll use every lesson I learned from MetaCookbook to make Getting Ready to Go better as a new blog than MetaCookbook was.2

I plan to update once a week, on Wednesdays. (Today was launch day, so I’ll have a post on Wednesday too.) I would love guest posters! All are welcome and encouraged3. My standard writing style is verbose, but at least some posts will be quite short.

I hope you’ll enjoy the journey that’s Getting Ready to Go.

These three plastic guys I found out in the world, two starfish and one octopus, remind me that sometimes going on the journey leads you to fun discoveries.

These three plastic guys I found out in the world remind me that sometimes going on the journey leads you to fun discoveries.


1 Which, yes, I am on as I launch this blog. Holy moly.

2 Example number one is launching this blog on MetaCookbook’s anniversary, so I only have to remember one “blogiversary” in the future. Example number two is this rocking footnote style.

3 I have three lined up already, I think. I hope!