It was the smile that lit up Glorious Goodwood in 2019.
When Khadijah Mellah won the Magnolia Cup at the meeting, she created a slice of history – she became the first British Muslim woman to win a horse race, let along one at an event so prestigious.
The 20-year-old took the spoils aboard Haverland in the special race for amateur women jockeys, and the hope was that it might expand the reach of horse riding to previously under-represented areas and communities.
And British racing has been good to their word, with a new academy and scholarship programme designed to promote the sport in urban environments.
The Riding a Dream Academy is named after a film made about Mellah’s exploits, and was founded by ITV Racing pundit OIi Bell and Great British Racing’s head of PR, Naomi Lawson.
The programme will be aimed at younger aspiring riders in the first instance, who will be able to apply for the Khadijah Mellah Scholarship – in the pilot year, eight places are available for the year-long scheme.
Those invited to participate will spend a full week at Newmarket’s British Racing School, which will be followed by eleven weekend sessions with their very own mentor at a working training yard.
There will also be a chance to compete in pony races and study for an industry qualification that could lead to full-time employment in the equine sector.
“I hope people from areas that racing doesn’t reach normally will get involved in this and it provides a legacy to Khadijah’s achievements, when she showed that the impossible can be possible,” Bell said.
Living the Dream
Mellah was just 18 and studying for her A-Levels when she competed in the 2019 Magnolia Cup.
The Goodwood renewal attracted a high-profile class of jockey that included former Olympian Victoria Pendleton and eventing specialist Sophie van der Merwe, and Mellah became the first person in history to ride competitively while wearing a hijab.
She only had six weeks riding out for trainer Charlie Fellowes beforehand and hadn’t even sat on a horse until April 2019 – barely four months prior to her Magnolia Cup appearance. Her introduction to riding had come at Brixton’s Ebony Horse Club, which operates a scheme similar to that of the Riding a Dream Academy.
The now 20-year-old from Peckham told the BBC that she was ‘proud and excited’ to help change the landscape for aspiring jockeys without the pathway to take their love for the sport further.
“If you come from my background, it can be difficult to imagine yourself in racing,” she said.
“I hope this will give other young people the confidence that it is a sport that you can get involved in, where you will be supported and can achieve your dreams.
“In my mind, the best case scenario, there’s a group of young people who make it to get their jockey licences. Hopefully one day I will be racing against them, or watching them.
“This is a catalyst to help diversity and change the narrative.”