Edited Press Release
Khadijah Mellah, 18, became a new hero for women in sport, and particularly Muslim women, when generating an unlikely fairytale at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.
The A-level student from Peckham in South London, a teenager with no family background in horses, let alone racing, won The Magnolia Cup, Goodwood’s charity race for women riders, showing a cool head and skills beyond her experience. She became the first woman to ride competitively on a British racecourse while wearing the hijab, but it might not be her last, for she subsequently revealed she wants to gain an amateur riders’ licence.
Riding quietly in mid-division among the 12 runners, and coping with the speed generated down Goodwood’s five-furlongs, downhill straight, Mellah produced the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland with a well-timed run to score narrowly from Land Filly, ridden by Alexis Green, and Clewbrious Company, the mount of Rachael Gowland.
Mellah, whose introduction to the Brixton charity Ebony Horse Club enabled her to begin riding lessons, started riding out with Newmarket-based Fellowes six weeks ago.
She said: “There are no words to describe this – I’m lost for words. I’m still trying to figure out how it all happened, and I’m so grateful to everyone who has come along to support. I’m so happy that Haverland is well – I’ve been riding him a lot at Charlie’s and I love him so much.
“[Before the race] I wasn’t used to seeing so many people, and there were so many cameras and people looking for information. At the start it was dead silent, and I wanted people [other riders] to start talking. I thought ‘Oh my god’, would someone smile, please. I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was crazy.
“When we set off there were three horses in front of me and the kickback was flying in my face and I decided to pull out and see what happens. When I passed the post I couldn’t believe it, and then I saw all my family and friends and started crying. I am quite competitive, so I wanted to win this race, but I never expected to.
“Initially, riding out at Charlie Fellowes’ yard was quite difficult because it was such a new experience, but Charlie, and Chris Wall and all the trainers I’ve ridden out with have been amazing in helping me. I didn’t really know how to ride, and Charlie has been so amazing, I can’t thank him enough.
“Horses bring me immeasurable amounts of happiness. I’ve always loved them and always will and I hope to carry on and keep riding.”
Surrounded by friends and instructors from the Ebony Horse Club, Mellah said: “I’ve known some of these people for five or six years and they have watched me grow up, so for them to be here is wonderful, especially Naomi, who has been my instructor. I’m just shocked.
“Ambitious women can make it – that’s all I want to represent. Be ambitious and do it. I’ve had so much support, and I can’t wait to see other stories about women who achieve something.”
Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes could not hide his admiration for Khadijah Mellah after the teenager became the first Muslim woman to ride a winner on a British racecourse.