11/17/2006 1:00AM

Clock Stopper, Private Vow return

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Between them, they have accounted for such major stakes as the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup and the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. But when Clock Stopper and Private Vow oppose four others in the Sunday feature at Churchill Downs, it will be after layoffs of notable durations, so the trainers of both are approaching the seven-furlong $61,000 allowance with cautious optimism.

Clock Stopper is back after suffering a ruptured tendon sheath, more commonly known as a bowed tendon, in winning the Commonwealth at Keeneland in April 2005. Private Vow is returning after getting a well-deserved rest following a demanding early-season campaign that culminated in disappointing runs in the Kentucky Derby and one subsequent race.

"It's a tough race for a year and a half back," said Dallas Stewart, trainer of Clock Stopper. "I had the horse ready at Gulfstream last winter, but then he re-bowed, and we've really taken our time getting him back. Hopefully he's ready to roll."

Private Vow, the lone 3-year-old in the field, hit a career high nearly a year ago capturing the KJC Stakes, but the colt has gone winless in four races since then. He was seventh in the Rebel Stakes, third in the Arkansas Derby, 15th in the Kentucky Derby, and sixth in the June 17 Northern Dancer Stakes, after which his connections effectively called a time-out.

"We felt like we probably rushed him a little to make the early 3-year-old campaign," said trainer Scott Blasi. "After the Northern Dancer we just kept him in the barn, gave him some time, hand-walked him some, then brought him back slowly. He's doing good, and I'm anxious to run him back in this one-turn race Sunday."

If neither of the layoff horses is able to win off the bench, then Straight Line or Level Playingfield look plenty capable. Straight Line, trained by 82-year-old Harvey Vanier, has earned more than $400,000 with 8 wins from 22 starts, with a triumph in the 2005 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill ranking among his top feats. Level Playingfield, trained by 72-year-old Bob Holthus, has amassed nearly $650,000 in earnings while finishing third or better in 30 of 40 starts.

The lineup is completed by Chief Export and Cowboy Hardware.

Because of the short field, the Sunday feature is carded early as the fourth of 10 races. Two other allowances, both with full fields, will be run later as the eighth and ninth races.