Updated on 09/17/2011 1:44PM

Pico Central loved the trip

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Despite sending his horse 3,000 miles to run in what he called "the toughest race this year so far," trainer Paulo Lobo was very confident in Pico Central's chances to win the $750,000 .

"I was very confident," Lobo said, "because, he is a great horse."

Pico Central showed just how great by winning in one of the best fields of handicap horses assembled in North America this year, taking the Grade 1 Met Mile by three-quarters of a length before 17,066 at showery Belmont Park. Bowman's Band rallied to be second, 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Strong Hope, the 9-5 favorite.

Gygistar finished fourth followed by Funny Cide, Saarland, Eye of the Tiger, Azeri, and Mobil.

The victory was the fourth in as many starts in North America this year for Pico Central. Lobo is now 3 for 3 in Grade 1 races in New York, having won the 2002 Alabama with Farda Amiga and the Carter and Met Mile with Pico Central.

In the Carter, Pico Central dueled with Strong Hope through wicked fractions before drawing away late. In the Met, Alex Solis got Pico Central to sit off Strong Hope through a half-mile run in 46 seconds, and Pico Central drew away from that rival inside the final furlong. Pico Central covered the mile in a modest 1:35.47. The track was labeled fast despite showers falling throughout the afternoon.

"He has so much speed, but I was very pleased with myself to get him to go 23, 46," Solis said. "I felt like every time I moved my hands on this horse he really jumped strong. I was confident that he would draw away anytime I wanted."

While Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Strong Hope, probably would have preferred not to have been on the lead, the modest early pace seemed to favor his horse. Still, Strong Hope was no match for the winner.

"It was kind of a hard racetrack to analyze the time, but if you said they'd go 23-and-two, 46 flat I'd have said we'll take our chances," Pletcher said.

Funny Cide appeared to be in good stalking position early, but when the real running started he didn't fire.

"He had no excuses," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "He can't run a mile against those kind of horses. I never did think he was a miler, but it's been drummed in my head forever so I thought it was worth a try."

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, came up empty in her first start against males, finishing eighth of nine.

"She normally runs across the top of it a little better than that," trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. "I don't think that she ran the race that we've seen her train for."