07/21/2003 11:00PM

Stakes-placed 'Vic' drops back into maiden company

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SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Commercant Vic is the likely favorite but Standing Tall is the one to catch in a one-mile maiden race for 3-year-olds and up Thursday at the Sonoma County Fair. Commercant Vic, coupled in the wagering with Robustinnier, and Standing Tall are both 3-year-olds.

Commercant Vic ran evenly in his debut in a strong maiden race at Golden Gate Fields on Feb. 22. He didn't return until June 7, when he was a distant third in another better than average maiden sprint.

Trainer Armando Lage then did something unusual, entering Commercant Vic in a stakes race around two turns at Pleasanton. Although it looked as if Commercant Vic was entered to help make the race go for winning stablemate Obermeister, Lage insisted before the race that the colt truly belonged in the race.

He was right. Commercant Vic ran third, finishing ahead of favored Winning Stripes, as he recorded a career-high 85 Beyer.

Standing Tall was claimed for $40,000 by high-percentage trainer Don Mills for Robert Bone in his 3-year-old debut on June 14 at Hollywood Park. He ran second that day and lost a photo at Pleasanton in his first start for Mills.

"He'd run a couple good races as a 2-year-old and had run with good horses, so we took a shot," Mills said.

Standing Tall will make his first start around two turns in Thursday's race. Mills will take off the blinkers that the colt has worn in all four starts.

"I use blinkers as a tool," Mills said. "Going long, I hope it will get him to relax as it does in the morning. He's worked well without blinkers."

The first time around two turns is always a test, but Standing Tall's natural speed will probably find him on the lead. Mills thinks he will be better routing than sprinting because "it will give him a chance to settle into a race more."

Mills formerly worked as an assistant with his lifelong friend, trainer Jeff Mullins. The two men still share clients in Arizona, where Mills is based.

Mills has won with 25 percent of his starters this year, although he has been unlucky in the win column on the fairs.

"This is the only job in the world where you lose 75 percent of the time and still keep your job," Mills said. "We pride ourselves on how our horses look and try to run them in the right spots. We do everything we can for each one of them. We treat everyone the same, from the cheaper horses to the stakes runners."