The history books will probably prove us wrong, but here at Eden Harper can't remember too many occasions when Brixton has produced a hijab-wearing woman jockey. And if there has been a forerunner to Khadijah Mellah, then they surely haven't enjoyed the same success. That success came to astounding fruition when Khadijah, who is aged just 18, actually won a race. And not just any race. Khadijah actually won the Magnolia Cup at Glorious Goodwood no less (she triumphed in the six-furlong charity race aboard the Charlie Fellowes-trained 25-1 outsider Haverland).
So exactly how did it all of this come about? Well, Khadijah -- who has been obsessed by horses since she was aged just five -- can put it all down to chance. The dream started to be realised when her mum, Selma, spotted a leaflet for Brixton's Ebony Horse Club in the window of the Brixton Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre.
Khadijah, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, remembered: “Mum came back home and said, ‘hey, there's a horse-riding centre in Brixton'. I was like, ‘I've lived and grown up in Brixton and Peckham, no way’. But I was so wrong. It was incredible. I signed up and became a member about seven years ago. It was so cool because I had tried another place and they would just let you get on with no instruction. Here was different though. Here you were learning to do things properly. The people were friendly and it was such great fun.”
Khadijah, who is set to study mechanical engineering at university, says she is delighted to be able to inspire other women to break down boundaries -- and she has revealed she is prepared to consider riding in more races.
She added: “There is this whole perception that Muslim women are oppressed, they can't follow their dreams or aspirations and they are constantly being told what to do. That's just not right at all. Ambitious women can make it and that is what I want to represent. I've had so much support and I can't wait to see other stories of other women doing the same and getting into the industry.
“I'm definitely going to try to get my amateur licence. I definitely want to keep going at it, as I've loved every second. It's been a whirlwind and a bit crazy. There has been loads of travelling and meeting new people and I love meeting new people. There have been early mornings and fitness training, but it has been well worth it.
"I bumped into Frankie Dettori at Goodwood and he gave me a hug and I thought, ‘oh my god, this is actually happening’ and it really pumped me up.”
*Khadijah's exploits can be seen on TV soon in a documentary Riding a Dream, directed by Mattia Reiniger and Tom Bolwell. It is being produced by ITV Racing’s Oli Bell and his brother Philip Bell, and funded by Great British Racing, Goodwood Racecourse and The Racing Foundation.
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