There was a definite sense of joie de vivre in the refreshingly cool air around the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club last night as France's visiting contingent left an indelible impression on the first meeting of the UAE capital's race season.
A delegation of eight jockeys and four trainers had been invited from France to attend the final race of the Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival.
And they had plenty to celebrate as four of the night's six races were won by their compatriots.
The opening event, a 1,300m race for purebred Arabian colts and geldings, was won by Burkan al Asayl, the three-year-old colt trained by Frenchman Philippe Barbe and ridden by countryman David Badel.
The duo then secured a memorable double moments later when Noor Einy, the three-year-old filly, triumphed in the second race of the night. Both horses are owned by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE.
More than 3,000 spectators turned out for the opening meeting of the new season.
The three main stands of the capital's Equestrian Club were filled predominantly with Sudanese men wearing coloured robes and matching taqiyahs, while the grounds surrounding the track were dominated by Emiratis.
The French appeared to mingle happily among the two groups.
Tarek Zidal, an Arabic-speaking Moroccan race fan from Tangiers casually dressed in a blue T-shirt and white Chinos and sitting with his fellow Africans in the stands, said he had been visiting the Equestrian Club regularly for the past two months.
"I have a love for horses," he said. "For me it is not so much about the jockeys or the races or the other people who come, for me it is just the opportunity to watch the beautiful animals."
Zidal added he had, however, enjoyed watching the final instalment of the three-race Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Cup series.
Muqatil al Khalidiah, having already triumphed in Holland and Poland, had secured enough points to hold an unassailable lead in the race for the trophy and thus did not compete in the capital - although trainer Jean-Francois Bernard was among the French travelling party.
With the prize's final destination already decided, there were murmurings that the race may unravel to be true to its name: flat.
However, Shadiyda, the seven-year-old trained by Frenchman Eric Lemartinel, impressed to win by more than five lengths.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Mansour, the young son of Sheikh Mansour, was on hand to present the trophy and pose for photographs with the beaming winners.
Meanwhile, Bernard also smiled and shook hands as he was congratulated by race enthusiasts. The Frenchman, who won four races in the Sheikh Mansour-backed festival for Arabian purebreds, said he was enjoying his time in the UAE.
"Everything has been perfect," he said. "It is very refreshing to see people who buy horses simply for the pleasure and for the sport. It is not the same in Europe where it is more to do with business. This is very important and I think the fans appreciate that."
Bernard added: "The festival has been great for me, because I won the cup with my horse in Poland. It has been an exciting affair and its objective is clear; it wants to promote Arabian horses around the world, and it is doing a good job. Many small breeders now are looking to buy Arabian thoroughbreds."
Bernard said he hopes to return to the Emirates in late March to compete in the Kahayla Classic at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse.
23-04-2010 Toulouse Racecourse (France) Winner: Scoubidou de Carrere
11-07-2010 Duindigt Racecourse (Holland) Winner: Muqatil al Khalidiah
17-07-2010 Delaware Park (USA) Winner: Sand Witchh
08-08-2010 Frankfurt Racecourse (Germany) Winner: Saher
22-08-2010 Warszawa Sluzewiec (Poland) Winner: Muqatil al Khalidiah
04-09-2010 Craon Racecourse (France) Winner: Kiss de Ghazal
07-11-2010 Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club (UAE) Winner: Shadiyda