Khadijah Mellah: The First Jockey to Wear a Hijab Wins at Goodwood

Khadijah MellahGlorious Goodwood is a flat racing meeting where you can expect a feast of high quality races and plenty of entertainment off the track too.

There’s also the chance to make history – as Stradivarius did in winning a third Goodwood Cup on Tuesday, and today it was the turn of teenager Khadijah Mellah to create her own moment landmark moment in the sport.

The 18-year-old became the first person in the UK to ride in a competitive race wearing a hijab – not a bad way to announce yourself to the sport in front of 25,000 punters.

And as if it was written in the stars, she went on to win as well!

Her victory came aboard the 14/1 shot Haverland in the day’s opener, the Magnolia Cup, a charity race featuring amateur jockeys and some familiar faces from TV including Victoria Pendleton, Vogue Williams and Luisa Zissman.

A Trailblazer

As you can probably imagine, there isn’t a great deal of representation of Muslims in racing – the likes of Sheikh Al Maktoum are among the most prominent owners in the sport, of course – and so it is hugely refreshing to see Mellah take to the Goodwood stretch.

Indeed, the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation has confirmed that the number of jockeys of the Islamic faith is in ‘single digits’, and that includes both past and present riders.

Mellah has been a fan of horse riding since she was young, but the student hadn’t even sat on a racehorse until July this year. Her training for the Magnolia Cup has included some intense sessions over at Newmarket in preparation for her 5f debut in a race that raises funds for the Wellbeing of Women charity.

“From a young age, I have wanted to be the person that people look up to,” she told BBC Sport. “I have already started receiving other messages from Muslim girls and it makes me really happy to hear from all these people that I’m affecting positively.”

“When I ride out in Newmarket I do try to spot any other women of colour and there was only one in over 200 riders.”

She was a figure of much interest at Goodwood given the ‘unusual’ sight of a jockey wearing a hijab, but the 18-year-old is used to the attention having been followed by a documentary crew, making a film called ‘Riding a Dream’, for the past few months.

They have been tracking her progress at Brixton’s Ebony Horse Club, which aims to give disadvantaged and under-represented groups in South London the opportunity to ride and learn key skills which they can then take into the workplace and their everyday lives.

In a typically urban and heavily built environment, it can be quite an arresting sight.

“Day in, day out people are passing by saying, ‘Oh my God, is that a horse? Is that a riding centre?” she told CNN. “It’s such a privilege to be involved in such a niche club, there aren’t many like it.

“It’s a nice change to see someone who isn’t typically racing to be racing. I feel like it could open up doors for people, and I like the idea that I’m starting a little movement and surprising people.”

Following the first win of her career at Glorious Goodwood, the only way is up for Khadijah Mellah.