His wife is American. His young children are American. His father, who like Florent Geroux was French, wanted to live in America and for that to happen the son needed to become an American citizen himself.
“It was important for me to become a citizen here,” Geroux said.
This led to the craziest, busiest and richest 24 hours you could design. Rich, as in money, because Geroux held up a fist and let out a cry as he crossed the finish line Saturday in the biggest payout ever in horse racing at Gulfstream Park by winning the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
That was the second most important finish line he crossed in a day.
The first one brought him the other rich part, though this one wasn’t financial. It was rewarding. It was emotional. This one was in the winter of Chicago. A year ago, Geroux applied to become a U.S. citizen, which meant he waited to be given an appointment for taking the oral part of his U.S. citizenship test in Chicago.
“Three weeks ago, they said Friday was his appointment — a day before the Pegasus,” his wife, Kasey said. “We couldn’t believe it.”
Geroux was in New Orleans racing on Thursday. He checked his schedule, double-checked to make sure flight-canceling snow wasn’t forecast in Chicago on Thursday night. And only then did he begin to study the necessary 100 questions for the oral test.
He’d be asked 10. He needed to pass six. It’s not calculus. But still.
“Are you ready?” his wife asked from their Kentucky home.
“Don’t worry,” he said.
He called her from Chicago to say he was going into the test. Ten minutes later, he called to say he passed. They stopped asking the questions after he answered the sixth one correctly: “How many senators are in the Senate?”
“It wasn’t hard,” he said.
It was bittersweet, though. A reason to become a citizen was for his father, Dominique to join him in America. Dominique died Dec. 29 in France from a fall sustained on Christmas Eve. He was a horseman himself and joined them for stretches to coincide with the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup.
“He would have loved this race,” Kasey said.
On Saturday, Geroux broke from his outside post to take a position behind early leader, Collected. That was the key to everything. Gun Runner was named the Horse of the Year on Thursday and showed why by becoming the horse of Saturday.
“The horse of a lifetime,” Geroux called him.
This was the paycheck of a lifetime, too. But then the Pegasus is how the rich play the lottery in some form. How else to explain one race worth $16 million? There are payback games in sports and there are payout games like this.
No one pretended otherwise. The winner’s $7 million share dwarfs the Kentucky Derby. The money brought everything else. The big names. The electric crowd. There was a so-called blue carpet, where a dozen photographers jostled to take pictures of anyone with a known name entering the track.
“This was the kind of day you love to race in,” Geroux said. “It’s such a big event, to come here and have a horse like this and win it is something out of a dream.”
Gulfstream’s owners, the Stronach family, announced the Pegasus was returning for a third year in 2019, meaning it’s on the way to becoming an annual event. With Doral’s golf tournament gone, with the Miami Open shifting to an unknown future at Hard Rock Stadium, it’s a welcome big event, too.
Gun Runner goes to retirement now. Geroux promises to visit him with the miniature carrots he loves.
“If you don’t bring them, he bites you,” he said.
Geroux, meanwhile, has another event ahead. He has to set his U.S. citizenship ceremony. But nothing can surpass the past 24 hours. He passed his oral citizenship test. He won a $16 million race. He stood here and said what any new citizen should: “What a country.”