06/28/2005 12:00AM

El General takes next step up

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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - El General seeks his fourth straight victory in Thursday's Woodbine headliner, a $62,500 optional claimer on the grass.

El General, a Stronach Stable runner trained by Justin Nixon, won a $20,000 claimer at Fort Erie when he returned from a nine-week layoff in early September. Despite encountering traffic problems in his next start, Sept. 23 at Woodbine, he scored a one-length victory against $40,000 opposition.

After getting the winter off, El General notched his third consecutive win May 21, when he beat $50,000 claimers. He kicked in nicely through the stretch in that one-mile event and won easily under regular rider Patrick Husbands.

El General, who breezed five furlongs over the training track in 1:02.40 last Saturday, is coupled with classy comebacker El Soprano.

El Soprano, 6, captured the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at 2 and was second in both the Breeders' and Toronto Cup Stakes at 3. He has been campaigned sporadically in the interim and finished seventh the last time he started, Nov. 7 in the Labeeb here.

Other contenders in Thursday's 1 1/16-mile feature are Riva's Tribute, Crackenthorpe, and Longship.

Leading rider Emma Wilson retains the mount on Riva's Tribute, who had a troubled trip when finishing two lengths back in a seven-furlong optional claimer in his lone outing this year May 22. Riva's Tribute won an entry-level allowance over this course last August. He is trained by John LeBlanc Jr.

Crackenthorpe set a dawdling pace en route to a three-quarter-length triumph in a June 11 preliminary allowance. He ran two respectable races on the turf in September and should be prominent from the outset Thursday under Robert Landry.

Longship showed some speed before fading in a 1 1/8-mile race in his season opener. He was utilized as a target for stablemate Dance With Ravens in a June 18 workout, in which he covered six furlongs on the main track in 1:13.80.

Longship ran the race of his life going 1 3/8 miles in October, when he finished third after setting slow fractions in the Grade 2 Sky Classic.

March With Me, the lone 3-year-old in the race, is trying the turf for the first time. Both his sire and dam loved the grass, but his dam has been a poor producer on turf.