Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Goodwood: Khadijah Mellah becomes first British jockey to win a horse race wearing a hijab

Mellah, 18, won the Magnolia Cup aboard Haverland on Ladies Day at the English racecourse

London teenager Khadijah Mellah made history at Goodwood on Thursday, becoming the first British jockey to win a horse race in a hijab.

The 18-year-old declared “ambitious women can make it" after her fairy-tale victory in the Magnolia Cup on Ladies Day at the English racecourse.

Mellah was also the first rider to race in a Hijab in Britain as she delivered the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland to victory with a perfectly-timed run to in the ladies-only charity race.

Mellah, who hails from Peckham in South London and is set to study mechanical engineering at university in September, learnt to ride at the Ebony Horse Club charity in Brixton - but sat on a racehorse for the first time only in April. Fellowes revealed she had only galloped for the first time last week.

It was a blanket finish to the race, but after a tense wait, Haverland was eventually called the winner by the stewards.

Arriving back in the paddock after her stunning victory, Mellah punched the air and smiled as she wiped back tears.

“There are no words to describe it," she told reporters afterwards. "I can’t believe it to be fair, I'm still trying to figure out how the hell that happened. I’m just so glad that everyone is here to support me."

While much has been made of her Muslim background and unconventional rise from Ebony Horse Club to one of the circuit’s most famous racing events, she has also sought to break another stereotype in what has traditionally been a sport dominated by men.

“Ambitious women can make it and that’s all I want to represent; be ambitious and do it,” she said.

“I’ve had so much support and I can’t wait to see other stories of other woman do the same, getting into the industry and doing amazing.”

And whilst it was a charity race, she faced a tough field including Victoria Pendleton the former Olympic champion in cycling turned jockey.

Mellah’s victory marked an incredible step in her fledgling career that has seen her propelled into the public view.

“It’s been a whirlwind, it’s just been a bit crazy. You know there’s travelling, meeting new people and sort of just getting on with it. A lot of early mornings, fitness training. But yeah, it’s well worth it.”

Mellah said she had met perhaps racing’s most famous jockey, Frankie Dettori, who had hugged her the day before.

In the moments leading up to the race she was particularly nervous, saying she was not used to the tension and attention of the media. She also noticed how focused her competitors were.

“Everyone was on the ball at the start. We set off and there were three horses in a line in front of me, sort of like a brick wall and the kickback was flying in my face. And I was like ‘I don’t know what to do, let’s just pull out and see what happens."

Asked to sum up the feeling as the finish line drew closer, she said: “I passed the person next to me and I was like ‘Oh my god! I can't believe this is happening, I’m doing it!' And then I saw all the family and friends come past and I just started crying uncontrollably, it’s been amazing.”

Fellowes said that despite her tender years Mellah had seemed relatively relaxed in the buildup, although confessed he feared she could be rattled by all the meida attention.

“We went down early specially so she could get out of here, get to the start and just take a breather and the rest as they say, is history,” he said.

“I didn’t in my wildest dreams think she could win it today but she just got everything absolutely spot on. She’s so brave.”

Mellah’s future is unclear. She plans to go to university but say’s horses bring her “unmeasurable” amounts of joy and wants to continue riding.

Updated: August 1, 2019 06:30 PM

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