The 6-year-old son of Hard Spun came off a Dec. 31 victory in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Gulfstream for trainer Mike Maker, got the perfect ground-saving rail trip in the 1 1/2-mile McKnight for 4-year-olds and up, and sprinted home under jockey Tyler Gaffalione to claim his win in a photo finish with Sadler's Joy.
"It was great. He had a perfect trip," Maker said. "Tyler saved all the ground, angled him out, and he finished strongly like he always does. The longer the better for him.”
Taghleeb raced eighth early on in the McKnight, well off the pace set by 35-1 shot Diamond Bachelor. Diamond Bachelor put up fractions of :24.72, :49.31, and 1:13.35 before Taghleeb began his steady progress. Seventh as a mile went in 1:37.93, the chestnut runner swung out with a five-wide bid around the turn and quickened down the lane under right-handed urging.
“The race set up beautifully for us," Gaffalione said. "The leaders did their work and we let them go and we relaxed back there. A couple of spots opened up and we were able to take advantage of it. When it came time to run, he just exploded. Mike really had him ready to go today. He is an exciting horse, but we are lucky the line came when it did.”
A similar late run from Sadler's Joy was too late by a head, while Taghleeb held safe in a final time of 2:25.90. Patterson Cross held third after pressing the pace, while 8-year-old veteran and 2012-13 McKnight winner Twilight Eclipse came in fourth after racing closely throughout. The order of finish was completed by Charming Kitten, Hunter O'Riley, Generous Kitten, Danish Dynaformer, Montclair, Mr Maybe, Applicator, and Diamond Bachelor.
Bred in Kentucky by Shadwell Farm out of the stakes-winning Alhaarth mare Judhoor, Taghleeb raced for his breeder and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin until his current connections picked him up for $62,500 in an allowance/optional claimer at Saratoga Race Course in July. Two starts off the claim he landed his other stakes score, the Remington Green Stakes at Remington Park. He was next ambitiously placed in the Pattison Canadian International Stakes (G1T), where he ran seventh, before returning with a fourth-place finish in the River City Handicap (G3T) in November at Churchill Downs.
Taghleeb returned $12.20, $6.60, and $3.60 at odds of 5-1, Sadler's Joy brought $9.60 and $6.80, and Patterson Cross paid $14.20.
The winner improved his record to 6-4-4 from 25 starts for earnings of $448,329.