05 March 2020

History-making jockey Khadijah Mellah on why it 'bugged' her that Magnolia Cup-winning headlines were all about her hijab

History-making jockey Khadijah Mellah has spoken of her regret that it was her hijab and not her performance that made headlines as she won last summer's Magnolia Cup at Goodwood.

Speaking at the launch of JustJockeys, a campaign for equality in horseracing, Mellah said: "Within racing, between the jockeys themselves everyone is equal, but in terms of the headlines it's great to have a strong powerful female figurehead in the public view.

"What bugged me was the hijab thing and how they made a big deal of the hijab. That doesn't impact my performance at all and it didn't phase me while I was training so I didn't think it was the main part of my story.

"For me, it was the training and how hard it was and the short amount of time it took for me to pick up racing, that was the main achievement for me personally. 

"But the headlines sort of stuck the hijab in the headline rather than my journey so that meant the public just assumed the only reason I made the headlines was for my hijab. For me, it was about the racing experience itself which was the ride at the Magnolia Cup.

"I think the fact I was a woman didn't phase people too much and it wasn't really part of my story but it did mean that young women did message me and felt that they were inspired by me so for me that was the positive, any way of inspiring young women is a great positive."

Mellah wants the concentration to be on her performance (PA Images)

Mellah added that she had heard from schoolchildren that she's inspired them to take up racing.

"I'm trying to use my public platform to inspire and motivate people from different areas. If it wasn't down to people at Ebony Horse Club who then introduced the idea of racing I would have never fallen in love with it.

"I feel it's about tapping into these different areas and talking to different people about it as there's so much skill that hasn't been accessed, it's about contacting these young people and getting them involved in the sport.  

"Within my riding club these three girls came up to me and said 'we're so excited to meet you' and I was like 'why?!' Then they said they wanted to get into racing and the girls who came up to me I never would've guessed that they wanted to do racing. 

"They were just normal schoolgirls who had been brought up around Brixton and if they then become successful jockeys I would be so happy to see their journey. It would be a story I would want to happen to make it the norm."

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