Khadijah Mellah becomes first hijab wearer to ride in a British race - and wins

Khadijah Mellah, 18, celebrates after winning with her horse Haverland in the charity race, the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood in Chichester,
DAN KITWOOD/GETTY IMAGES
Khadijah Mellah, 18, celebrates after winning with her horse Haverland in the charity race, the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood in Chichester,

Khadijah Mellah, the 18-year-old who won the Magnolia Cup charity race at Goodwood in England,  is a teenager who has come a long way in a short time.

The journey from home in Peckham in south London to Goodwood in Sussex, via Brixton's Ebony Horse Club and a crash course in thoroughbred-riding at Charlie Fellowes' Newmarket yard, has been a rapid one, and it was crowned in glory as she rode Haverland to victory on Thursday NZT.

But it was not without its struggles on the way for a young person who became the first hijab-wearing woman to ride in a competitive British horse race, let alone to win.

Haverland cruises to the line for Khadijah Mellah.
MARK KERTON/PA/AP
Haverland cruises to the line for Khadijah Mellah.

Growing up in south London, there were few obvious horse racing role models or pathways. Her brother Abdus, 16 - among the many supporters yesterday and himself a would-be jockey - explained how they became perhaps unlikely, or at least unusual, racing competitors.

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"Our parents took us to a riding centre in Mottingham, we used to go maybe every three weeks, just to look at the horses and then, later, to ride them. Then my parents started taking Khadijah to Ebony Horse Club, and mum said, 'Oh well, if she's going there you might as well go too'.

"I've been riding out at Charlie Fellowes' yard as well with her this last few weeks. Who's better? Me obviously! No, I'm joking. It's amazing that she has won this."

His sister has become an overnight star, and there was a deluge of interest in her here yesterday, and a film coming up on ITV in the autumn called Riding A Dream. A bright, impressive woman who plans to study engineering at university, she appears to relish her new role.

Khadijah Mellah is all smiles after her historic win.
MARK KERTON/PA/AP
Khadijah Mellah is all smiles after her historic win.

"From a young age, I have wanted to be the person that people look up to, and I have already started receiving other messages from Muslim girls. It makes me really happy to hear from all these people that I'm affecting positively."

She can certainly count Fellowes among her many new fans. "She is the most wonderful young lady I have ever had anything to do with. She has a smile that lights up the yard," he said.

The race may feature a few famous (ish) faces from the world of television and entertainment, and it might be contested in delightful bespoke floral silks, but nothing involving 500 kilograms of animal travelling at 55kmh can be treated too breezily.

It was not until Mellah had completed some testing galloping work alongside Hayley Turner, and completed it to Fellowes' complete satisfaction, that he allowed her to take her place in yesterday's race.

Safety has rightly become a primary concern over this spectacle in recent years, with Goodwood moving the finishing post further up the straight to give the inexperienced riders more time and space to pull up. And before the off, Vogue Williams, the Irish TV personality who rode The Magic Sign and would briefly contest the lead, said: "We all got a terrific b------ing from the starter earlier, telling us that if anyone false-started they would scrap the race for good."

Aside from the physical jeopardy, the pressure of attention and interest was not to be sneezed at. The scrum of supporters and photographers in the parade ring got a bit much for Mellah just before the race, and she had a brief wobble, for a moment looking like an overwhelmed teenager. But only for a moment. She got herself together and got on the horse, and had a few last-minute instructions from Fellowes to stay in the middle of the field. And with that, she was off up to the start. And soon to groundbreaking, inspirational glory.

 

 

The Telegraph, London