Khadijah A New Hero For Women

Horse Racing | Press Article 16/04/24


Khadijah Mellah, 18, became a new hero for women in sport, and particularly Muslim women, when generating an unlikely fairytale at the Qatar Goodwood Festival.

The A-level student from Peckham in South London, a teenager with no family background in horses, let alone racing, won The Magnolia Cup, Goodwood's charity race for women riders, showing a cool head and skills beyond her experience. She became the first woman to ride competitively on a British racecourse while wearing the hijab, but it might not be her last, for she subsequently revealed she wants to gain an amateur riders' licence.

Riding quietly in mid-division among the 12 runners, and coping with the speed generated down Goodwood's five-furlongs, downhill straight, Mellah produced the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland with a well-timed run to score narrowly from Land Filly, ridden by Alexis Green, and Clewbrious Company, the mount of Rachael Gowland.

Mellah, whose introduction to the Brixton charity Ebony Horse Club, enabled her to begin riding lessons, started riding out with Newmarket-based Fellowes six weeks ago.

She said: "There are no words to describe this - I'm lost for words. 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.

"[Before the race] I wasn't used to seeing so many people, and there were so many cameras and people looking for information. 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.

"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. I am quite competitive, so I wanted to win this race, but I never expected to.

"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. I didn't really know how to ride, and Charlie has been so amazing, I can't thank him enough.

"Horses bring me immeasurable amounts of happiness. I've always loved them and always will and I hope to carry on and keep riding."

Surrounded by friends and instructors from the Ebony Horse Club, Mellah said: "I've known some of these people for five or six years and they have watched me grow up, so for them to be here is wonderful, especially Naomi, who has been my instructor. I'm just shocked.

"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."



Newmarket trainer Charlie Fellowes could not hide his admiration for Khadijah Mellah after the teenager became the first Muslim woman to ride a winner on a British racecourse.

Mellah rode the Fellowes-trained Haverland to victory in the 12-runner Magnolia Cup charity race, an astonishing triumph for a woman with no background in horses and who has grown up in Peckham, South London, far removed from the traditional route into racing.

She started riding thoroughbreds for the first time in April, and met Fellowes just six weeks ago. He said: "Khadijah gave the horse the most unbelievable ride. She was so cool - she followed the right horse through and she did absolutely brilliantly. I'm speechless, shaking, I can't believe that. 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.

"About six weeks ago Oli [Bell of ITV Racing, Mellah's mentor through the route to the race] rang me and asked if I had a suitable horse, and Haverland is ideal. He's a gentleman and very safe, and I knew he would look after her - also the conditions of the race suit him. 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.

"She's very competitive, but very relaxed, and you have to be relaxed. When I came to collect the saddle before the race there were press and cameras in her face, and she's 18 years of age, and I thought 'Oh no, this might be getting to her'. We sent her to the start early to get out of the melee, get to the start and get a breather, and the rest is history.

"Females in racing have always had a good position but Muslim females? There's not many of them around. 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's open to everyone and we welcome everyone with open arms, especially young ladies like that."


Olympic gold-medal winning track cyclist Victoria Pendleton, who rode in the race, and has ridden in point-to-points and at the Cheltenham Festival, said: "It is such a privilege to ride at such a fantastic course, and the girls all rode so well and so professionally. There have been negative comments in the past, but I hope the race goes on, because it is such a great innovation. It is an incredible result with Khadijah winning - she was so nervous at the start, bless her. Her journey is the stuff of fairytales, and I love a fairytale."

Another rider who took part in the Magnolia Cup, Kitty Trice, a journalist who works for the Racing Post, said: "It is a thrill to see Khadijah win - she is a true role model and just what the sport needs."



Alexis Green, riding the Chris Gordon-trained Land Filly (actual horse name Wiff Waff), was elated after her second place in the ninth running of the Magnolia Cup In Support of Wellbeing of Women.

Green went down by three-quarters of a length to the Khadijah Mellah-ridden Haverland.

Green, a weather presenter and senior broadcast journalist for BBC South, said: "What an amazing win from Khadijah.

"I pushed Wiff Waff at the end and we gave it our best.

"I am so glad that the ladies are all such good friends and it has been such an amazing day.

"I hope to ride in another race! You never know, I might turn amateur."



 In Support of Wellbeing of Women

 5½ Furlongs


1 HAVERLAND - ridden by Khadijah Mellah

2 LAND FILLY - Alexis Green

3 CLEWBRIOUS COMPANY - Rachael Gowland

Distances: ¾, 1

Winner owned by Mr & Mrs Graham Mills & trained by Charlie Fellowes in Newmarket

12 ran

Khadijah Mellah, 18, is from South East London and is currently studying for her A-Levels ahead of hopefully studying mechanical engineering at university later this year.

She learnt to ride at Ebony Horse Club (who sponsored her today) in Brixton where she has been a member for about five years and has represented the club at various events and competitions. She won the Magnolia Cup In Support of Wellbeing of Women today on Haverland today at Goodwood, her first ride in public.