Khadijah Mellah hopes her participation in the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood will help to show others they can “follow their aspirations and dreams”.
The 18-year-old will take on the likes of Olympic champion cyclist Victoria Pendleton and model Vogue Willams in Thursday’s ladies-only charity race, marking the culmination so far of a fascinating journey for the Muslim student from Peckham in South London.
Mellah, set to study mechanical engineering at university in September, learnt to ride at the charity Ebony Horse Club in Brixton – but sat on a racehorse for the first time only in April.
Since the end of her A-Levels and Ramadan, Mellah has been based in Newmarket as part of her preparation for the race – in which she will team up with the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland.
She said: “I know it sounds weird, but you don’t understand how fast they are until you’ve sat on one!
“But I have put in a lot of hard work – riding out two or three times a day, as well as time in the gym and on the equicisers, so I feel like I have learnt the ropes.”
She is therefore ready to test her skills on a showpiece occasion.
“It will be incredible to line up against the likes of Victoria Pendleton,” added the teenager.
“I don’t really get too nervous, and I have been to the races a couple of times in Newmarket – so I have a better idea of what to expect.
“It’s crazy to think of my journey over the last couple of months, but a big part of my life has been proving people wrong. There are definitely a fair few guys out there who would struggle to do what I am doing, and I am thrilled that I am part of shift in social understanding of what women can achieve and what they can be good at.
“There’s quite a stereotype around Muslim girls and them ‘not being able to follow their sporting passions and dreams’. I want to be a role model to anyone who wants to do something that they wouldn’t initially believe was in their comfort zone, and allow people to follow their aspirations and dreams.”
Fellowes is full of praise for Mellah, adding: “Khadijah has worked so hard since she has been based in Newmarket, and to say she has improved in her riding is an understatement.
“She has ridden out with my team practically every day and has built a really close bond with Haverland, who adores her. She has been so determined and focused, and all of the team here wish her every bit of luck for the race.”
Mellah is the subject of a documentary, Riding a Dream, which charts her route to the Goodwood race and is due to be shown in the autumn.
Directed by Mattia Reiniger and Tom Bolwell and produced by ITV Racing’s Oli Bell and his brother Philip Bell, the film has been funded by Great British Racing, Goodwood Racecourse and The Racing Foundation.
Oli Bell said: “It’s a wonderful story, because you see someone who never would have expected to ride in a race, and you can see her blossom.
“I hope it will show that whoever you are, whatever your background, you can achieve your dreams.”