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20 May 2021

New academy seeks to support talented riders from under-represented communities

Aspiring jockeys from under-represented communities will be given the chance to get into racing via a new academy inspired by Khadijah Mellah, the first British Muslim woman to win a horse race in the UK.

Mellah’s road to success in the Magnolia Cup at Goodwood in 2019 was followed by an ITV film crew, and the academy launched this week takes the same name as the resulting documentary – Riding A Dream.

ITV’s Oli Bell was one of the most prominent supporters of Mellah’s bid to triumph in the ladies-only charity race and the broadcaster has now teamed up with Great British Racing’s head of PR, Naomi Lawson, to further the sport’s commitment to diversity.

The project splits into two branches, the first being the Khadijah Mellah scholarship, a year-long programme for riders aged 14-18 that gives eight successful applicants the chance to train for a week at the British Racing School in Newmarket before returning for 11 monthly lessons under the guidance of a mentor.

Work experience at a leading racing stable is also scheduled alongside the opportunity to ride in pony races and gain a 1st4Sport Level 1 qualification in the horse racing industry.

The second strand of the initiative offers a residential week at the British Racing School for those less experienced with horses – with both programmes funded by the Racing Foundation and the Jockey Club, who will sponsor one applicant from the St James City Farm in Gloucester.

The latter facility is an inner-city riding school akin to the Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, where Mellah learned to ride, and it is those who have developed a similar passion for racing but are not from traditional equine backgrounds that the academy is intended to benefit.

Bell said: “We are incredibly grateful to the Racing Foundation for funding The Riding A Dream Academy, which will enable lots of young people who wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to experience the thrill of horse racing.

“It will hopefully provide a legacy to Khadijah’s achievements when she showed that the impossible can be possible, and it is something that I am hugely proud to be a part of.

“I look forward to meeting the racing stars of the future who will be a part of this terrific new initiative.”

Mellah was aboard the Charlie Fellowes-trained Haverland when winning at Goodwood, and the trainer has again offered his support as he intends provide work experience for one member of the academy at his Newmarket yard.

“Lots of trainers will be more than open to supporting this brilliant initiative,” he said.

“Khadijah’s story and success was so powerful, and creating a lasting legacy that helps other young people from under-represented backgrounds get into racing is something that we all see the value in.

“My team and I can’t wait to get involved.”

Mellah’s success saw her crowned The Times Young Sportswoman of the Year in 2019, and she hopes that horse racing can have the same positive impact on the lives of other young people who may previously have considered the sport to be inaccessible to them.

“Racing changed my life forever, and I hope that by getting involved in The Riding A Dream Academy it will change other young people’s lives too,” she said.

“If you come from my background it can be difficult to imagine yourself in racing, so I hope the academy will give other young people the confidence that racing is a sport that you can get involved in, where you will be supported and where you can achieve your dreams and anything you set your mind to.”

Susannah Gill, Trustee of the Racing Foundation and Chair of the Diversity in Racing Steering Group, said: “British racing is a wonderful sport and all of us involved in it must work together to ensure future generations feel they can have the opportunity to be part of it. The Riding a Dream Academy is a fantastic example of the positive action needed to ensure British racing is a diverse and inclusive sport in which everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential and where people from all communities feel welcome. The Racing Foundation is very pleased to offer its support from the outset and huge credit must go to Oli Bell, Naomi Lawson, the British Racing School and everyone involved in making the Riding a Dream Academy a reality.”

Naomi Howgate, General Manager of Ebony Horse Club in Brixton where Khadijah learned to ride welcomed the initiative saying, “It’s brilliant that The Riding A Dream Academy has been developed as part of Khadijah’s legacy. Having role models that you relate to is so important and it is great that the young people at Ebony and other urban equestrian centres who have been inspired by Khadijah’s achievements will also have the opportunity to explore the world of horse racing through the Academy’s two programmes.”

Andrew Braithwaite, Finance Director who has been instrumental in the Academy’s development said, “Creating the Riding A Dream Academy is a fantastic idea and links in really well with other opportunities in the sport. The British Racing School is delighted to be involved in the Academy which will help to open up racing. It will provide a really important missing link to help young people from diverse backgrounds get more involved and mean that we are tapping into the full spectrum of talent out there.”

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