Teenager Khadijah Mellah made history with her winning ride in the Magnolia Cup at the Qatar Goodwood Festival today (1 August) as the first woman to race in a hijab in Britain.
Khadijah gave the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland a well-judged ride, pipping Land Filly and BBC presenter Alexis Green into second by three-quarters of a length. In third was Clewbrious Company, ridden by Rachael Gowland.
The 18-year-old from Peckham, south London, sat on a racehorse for the first time in April and started riding out for Charlie just six weeks ago.
Her introduction to riding came through Brixton-based charity, Ebony Horse Club.
“There are no words to describe this — I’m lost for words,” said the A-level student.
“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.”
Khadijah, who has revealed she would like to apply for her amateur licence, added horses bring her “immeasurable amounts of happiness”.
“I’ve always loved them and always will and I hope to carry on and keep riding,” she said.
“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.”
She said while she wanted to win, she never expected to.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Khadijah thanked her instructor, Naomi, and all those who have helped her in her journey.
“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,” she said.
“I didn’t really know how to ride, and Charlie has been so amazing, I can’t thank him enough.”
Charlie added that Khadijah gave the horse “the most unbelievable ride”.
“She was so cool — she followed the right horse through and she did absolutely brilliantly,” said the Newmarket-based trainer.
“I’m speechless, shaking, I can’t believe it. She is the most incredible young lady you will ever come across. How she has done that is beyond remarkable.
“Every single time we have asked Khadijah to come forward she has done so, emphatically. She is the most wonderful young lady I have ever had anything to do with — she has a smile that lights up our yard. She has taken this so incredibly well.
“I thought she might finish in the first four, but she has ridden an absolute peach of a race. She was in the perfect position, won nicely and a shade cosily — I hope the handicapper wasn’t watching!”
The partnership came about via Oli Bell, Khadijah’s mentor for the Magnolia Cup, who called Charlie to ask if he had a suitable horse — which he did.
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“[Haverland] is a gentleman and very safe, and I knew he would look after her — also the conditions of the race suit him,” said Charlie.
“The two of them have become the most fantastic partnership, but never did I think they could win the race.
“Khadijah is so brave and the process never fazed her one bit. We’ve taken baby steps, but until last week she had never galloped or gone at this pace.
“We took her to the Rowley Mile for a piece of work, Hayley [Turner] rode with her, and I said to Oli, ‘If she nails this then we are okay’. She absolutely nailed it and I came away with a smile on my face.
“Females in racing have always had a good position but Muslim females? There’s not many of them [in the industry]. It’s wonderful and it shows actually what an inclusive sport this is because I think it has a reputation for not being inclusive. It’s not, it is open to everyone and we welcome everyone with open arms, especially young ladies like that.”
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