Glorious Goodwood: Khadijah Mellah to make history as first jockey to compete in a hijab

Khadijah Mellah
Khadijah Mellah has been training since April

Peckham teenager Khadijah Mellah will ride out at Glorious Goodwood on Thursday and make a little bit of history in front of 25,000 people.

The 18-year-old student is believed to be the first person in the UK to appear in a competitive horse race while wearing a hijab.

She will ride in the all-female Magnolia Cup - an amateur jockey's charity race - alongside former Olympian turned jockey Victoria Pendleton, BBC presenter Alexis Green and TV personality Vogue Williams.

"From a young age, I have wanted to be the person that people look up to," Khadijah 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."

Khadijah got into horse riding seven years go, but had not sat on a racehorse before April this year. She has been training at Newmarket in the build-up to the Goodwood Festival.

"People have been very welcoming to the prospect of having a new face in the jockey industry," she said.

"I enjoy having conversations about people who are genuinely curious.

"Sometimes it's hard explaining my background over and over again to lots of different people, but generally I like explaining where I've come from and how I've got to where I have."

According to the Muslim Women's Sport Foundation, the number of female British Muslim Jockeys - past and present - is in "single digits". But in the horse racing world, Khadijah views her identity as a conversation starter.

"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 said.

"But it doesn't faze me; it means that I end up talking to loads of people and making great connections, so I'm happy.

"It makes me feel sort of blessed because not many people get the opportunity to represent. It adds a little meaning to life."

A documentary called Riding A Dream is being made about Khadijah, in which she says: "There's quite a stereotype around Muslim girls and them not being able to follow their sporting passions and dreams."

Khadijah first joined Brixton's Ebony Horse Club, when her mum came across a leaflet in a local mosque.

While training to be a jockey, Khadijah has balanced studying for her A-levels and a part-time job, as well as continuing to volunteer and mentor younger riders at Ebony Horse Club every week.

She has been training extensively for the five-furlong and 110 yards (1,110m) flat race being staged on the third day of the fixture to raise funds for the Wellbeing of Women healthcare charity.

"My introduction to race horses started off a bit rocky," she said. "They were quite scary at first. I was a nervous wreck before my first gallop. It was quite a shock how fast you go. When you're on a racehorse you feel absolutely everything."

Khadijah says she is feeling "confident" about the race, mixed with "nervousness" about the scale of the event.

"I'm very competitive so it would mean the world if I did come first, and I feel like a lot of people would be celebrating if I did - the support behind me would be great," she said.

"I never thought I'd have a future in racing at all. But now that I've been introduced to it and I've been riding racehorses for the past couple of weeks, I've fallen in love with it and I'm definitely going to keep at it.

"And maybe one day get into big races and become an amateur or an apprentice."

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