Jockey Khadijah Mellah, who made history at Glorious Goodwood last year by becoming the first hijab-wearing jockey to ride in and win a race in Britain, says the ‘drinking culture’ around horse racing may be putting some people off the sport.
Khadija landed the Magnolia Cup at the Sussex course last year, and on the eve of the 5-day meeting, the Racing Post spoke to her exclusively to hear her thoughts on what more the sport can do to maximise its appeal.
She said: “From the outside, racing seems to be elitist and upper class. It seems expensive. Racing has a shiny exterior that gives the impression you need to be a certain person to be able to access the sport. I know this is changing but the culture around racing is also about betting and drinking. In my culture that sort of social gathering just doesn’t occur.
“There has been no representation for people in my community. That’s why I’m happy and proud I am now a representative. Young people ask me how could they become a jockey and I tell them about the racing schools. I don’t think there has been an incentive for people to deviate from the traditional route. Now that I have had some success in racing, people from urban areas or with ethnically diverse backgrounds can hopefully see there are opportunities for them in racing.”
“When I go to the races the culture still feels like it’s about drinking and betting,” she says. “That puts people off 100 per cent. My dad loves horses. Who doesn’t love seeing a majestic creature ridden by an incredible athlete galloping at 40 miles per hour? It’s an amazing spectacle. My dad loves it but is deterred by the laddish, drinking culture that comes with racing.
“Even at Goodwood he was slightly uncomfortable. At Cheltenham me and my mum were somewhat uncomfortable as well. We went down into the enclosures because we wanted to fully experience the festival roar but it was very laddish with people getting quite drunk. That’s how it is. I’ve been brought up within the British drinking culture, so it doesn’t faze me at all, but I know it puts my parents off racing.”
Khadija added: “Unless you’re from an Arab country, racing isn’t a normal thing for people in my community.”
She said more needs to be done to broaden the appeal of racing.
Khadija said: “I believe racing needs to do more to give people exposure to the sport. When I was younger I loved horses. I tried polo, cross-country and dressage. I did every single equestrian discipline apart from racing because in my mind racing felt completely separate.
“The way racing is publicised is directed towards its fans. If you have no connection with horses, if you’re from my background or live in an urban area, it can be impossible to imagine yourself in racing.”
You can read the full interview in Racing Post