Neither Azeri nor Funny Cide put up much of a fight in the Metropolitan Handicap yesterday, with Pico Central taking charge in the stretch and beating Bowman's Band by three-quarters of a length in the rain at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

Azeri, the 2002 horse of the year, finished eighth in her first start against males.

Funny Cide, last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, was a disappointing fifth in his first race at Belmont since finishing third in his Triple Crown try in the Belmont Stakes.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Pico Central covered the mile in 1 minute 35.47 seconds. . . .

He Loves Me, a two-time stakes winner on the dirt, didn't appear to mind when the $75,000 Pearl Necklace Stakes was taken off the grass at Pimlico, winning the 11/16-mile race for Maryland-bred 3-year-old fillies by 11/2 lengths.

Trained by Richard Small and ridden by Jozbin Santana, He Loves Me went off as the 2-5 favorite and won in a sharp time of 1:44.15. Hi Five Raven, a 64-1 shot, took the lead after six furlongs and finished second.

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports