Khadijah Mellah races to victory at Goodwood

Peckham teenager all smiles following landmark triumph

  • Thursday 01 August
  • News
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Student Khadijah Mellah registered a fairytale victory as she steered Haverland to victory in the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood.

The 18-year-old was the first rider to race in a hijab in Britain and she delivered her Charlie Fellowes-trained mount with a perfectly-timed run to lift 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.

She certainly belied her lack of experience, as she exercised plenty of patience aboard Haverland, only making her move coming into the final furlong.

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

Mellah is now hoping to build on her success, with an amateur licence in her sights, and hopes her triumph will serve as a beacon to others.

She said: “There are no words to describe it. I can’t believe it, to be fair.

“I’m just so glad everyone is here to support me and that Haverland did well and he is OK. He is such an amazing horse and I love him so much.

“Initially, at the beginning, I’m not used to so much attention – there were so many cameras and people trying to feed me information. It was a bit crazy and then we set off.

“Everyone was on the ball at the start and there were three horses in a line in front of me, like a brick wall, and the kickback was flying in my face and I didn’t know what to do, so I pulled out to see what would happen.

“I passed the person next to me and I thought, ‘I can’t believe it is happening’. I then I saw all the family and friends come past and I started crying uncontrollably. It has been amazing.

“Ambitious women can make it and that is what I want to represent. I’ve had so much support and I can’t wait to see other stories of other women doing the same and getting into the industry.

“I’m definitely going to try to get my amateur licence. I definitely want to keep going at it, as I’ve loved every second.

“It’s been a whirlwind and a bit crazy. There has been loads of travelling and meeting new people and I love meeting new people. There have been early mornings and fitness training, but it has been well worth it.

“I bumped into him (Frankie Dettori) yesterday and he gave me a hug and I thought, ‘oh my god, this is happening’ and it really pumped me up.”

Mellah’s 13-year-old sister Tuka was on hand to celebrate her success, which she felt her sibling thoroughly deserved.

She said: “She has worked so hard, she has deserved this – doing press ups, sit ups and always jumping around. Throughout those six weeks she has been so excited and has given it her all.

“She has made time for herself and the race and for us, so thank you to her. As you see at the end of the race, she was so emotional as she knew she had done something great and I’m really happy for her.

“My brother has raced at Ascot and my sister has won this race, so I’m just waiting for my time.”

Fellowes said: “I’m so proud of what she has achieved. This girl had never sat on a racehorse until about two months ago. Every single time we have asked her to come forward, she has answered emphatically. She is the most wonderful young lady I’ve had anything to do with.

“She has a smile that lights up our yard every time she comes in. She has just taken this so incredibly well. Realistically I thought we might finish in the first four. She just gave him an absolute peach of a ride. She was in a perfect position and she won nicely – a shade cosily, I think.

“About six weeks ago Oli (Bell, racing presenter) called me up and said, ‘would you have a horse for the race’. He is the perfect horse for the race, he is a gentleman and is very safe and I knew he would look after her. I knew the conditions of the race would suit him.

“The two of them have just become the most fantastic partnership.”

Double Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton was among those to finish behind Mellah, and she was thrilled for her young rival.

She said: “It was an incredible result with Khadijah winning. She was so nervous at the start. Her journey is like the stuff of fairytales and I love fairytales.”

Naomi Howgate, of the Ebony Horse Club, said: “She is just a really incredible person and quite a few people have said that about her.

“Having seen her through her teenage years and having known her since she was 12 or 13, we’ve really seen her at Ebony kind of grow into a woman. She is just a really great person and we get on so well.

“She is an incredible mentor for the younger kids at the club. You know when Khadijah is on, she will work hard and help out with the staff and younger kids. I love spending time with her and I’m so proud of her.”

She added: “I think this has a wider significance on quite a few levels.

“For us personally at Ebony Horse Club, we are quite a small charity, but we see 150 kids a week and often they have never sat on a horse before, so for those youngsters – some as young as eight – to look at Khadijah in the ranks of our club and see she has won a race, it is just so inspiring.”

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