Captain Conan was made to pull out all the stops by Third Intention in the Betfred Mobile Lotto Challengers Novices' Chase at Sandown.
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Nicky Henderson's youngster had already dished out two previous beatings to Colin Tizzard's chaser at Cheltenham and Sandown but he only asserted his authority in the final strides on this occasion.
With Henderson looking for a decisive pointer as to Captain Conan's Cheltenham target, his charge looked in trouble some way out as Third Intention forged clear.
However, Tizzard's runner found the Sandown hill too much as Barry Geraghty seized the opportunity to galvanise Captain Conan (1/2 favourite) and win by a neck.
"It was definitely harder work than we thought. He jumped nicely, but I knew from the water jump it was going to be hard work," said Geraghty.
"I know Nicky has got an indoor school which has kept them on the go, but I'd say he just lacked a bit of race fitness.
"I don't think the ground was an issue. He's a big horse who wants a lot of work.
"I would say two and a half miles is perfect for him."
Henderson said: "He did well to win. It answers one question as he wasn't going to win at two miles.
"They went a good gallop and he's a big gross horse.
"We were going to run him in the Dipper in early January and that was off then we were stuck in the snow. He's a big horse and just got a bit tired. He's had to hang around a long time waiting for this.
"He didn't win on the bridle but he jumped well and he stayed."
Sky Bet pushed Captain Conan's price for Cheltenham's Jewson Chase out from 4/1 to 5/1.