IT was a case of so near but not quite near enough for Ryedale's star chaser Waiting Patiently in the Grade 1 Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday.

Making his seasonal debut and running over the minimum distance of two miles for the first time since he won a novice chase at Newcastle three years ago, the Ruth Jefferson-trained chaser ran an absolute cracker in what was a top-class race.

He certainly wasn't one of the favourite to life the £84,000 first prize as the race had attracted a couple of the leading two-mile chasers in training, the Somerset-trained Defi de Seuil and Irish raider Un de Sceaux, who started first and second favourite.

In a memorable race the two favourites finished first and second with just a neck between them, but Waiting Patiently was just a length behind them in third having stormed up the Sandown hill under top rider Brian Hughes.

The trio finished a long way clear of the other five runners in a star-studded field.

It was a brilliant performance by the Norton horse as it showed that on his day he is right in the top drawer and that two miles could well be his optimum distance.

Afterwards Jefferson said: "It was a great run but rather frustrating to have come so close to winning a Grade 1 race.

"Apart from one mistake he jumped really well and finished strongly. I don't know where he'll run next but the going rather than the race distance will be the deciding factor as he needs soft ground."

Opportunities for top-class two-mile chasers are fairly limited, but the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park on December 27 is one likely target and there are also other suitable races in Ireland.

Whatever he does next time, he did Ryedale proud on Saturday though as his trainer said afterwards, it was slightly frustrating to have finished so close without winning.

Overall it was a good week for Ruth Jefferson for she sent out three winners, Bally Conor at Haydock on Thursday, Dubai Angel at Wetherby on Saturday and Temple Man at Kelso on Sunday.

Scottish-owned Bally Conor had won a bumper at Ayr in November last year, and had run well without winning in all four of his previous races over hurdles.

The step up to three miles proved right up his street this time for he travelled strongly, was sent four lengths clear by Brian Hughes going to the second last, but then idled in front and in the end scraped home by just a head in a race in which the first two were 15 lengths ahead of the remainder.

Afterwards his trainer said: "He is only small and has had a couple of niggles but it is coming together for him now. We have schooled him over fences but he is probably too inexperienced to go chasing just yet."

Bally Conor began his racing life under the care of Ruth's late father Malcolm and so did Dubai Angel, who won three times for him but got rather high in the handicap and his win in Saturday's Sunflower Foundation Handicap Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday was his first since March 2017.

He did it in some style though for going on after the first flight of hurdles in the home straight he drew right away under Malton-based rider Jamie Hamilton to win by six lengths.

Hamilton was also in the saddle on Temple Man, who won for the second time in his career when taking the Robert Eggo Handicap Hurdle at Kelso on Saturday.

His previous success had come over the same course-and-distance in October 2017, and though he had been running over longer distances recently, he seemed suited by the drop back to two miles as he got home by three lengths from the favourite Rubytwo.

It was a timely success as well, for having been bred by Malcolm Jefferson, he is owned by Tizzy Straker, the widow of whisky magnate Ivan Straker who did so much to help save the Grand National, and was also the owner of the classy Paris Pike who had a race named in his honour at Kelso on Sunday.

It was an excellent weekend for Ryedale's top jumpers as Definitly Red from Brian Ellison's Norton stable showed his best form for a while when finishing fourth in Saturday's Randox Health Becher Chase, a race run over the Grand National fences at Aintree.

In a quality field he jumped well most of the way, and though he never really looked like winning, he kept on gamely to finish in the frame.

His good run will help fuel dreams of an even better effort in the Grand National itself in April.

Ellison said: "I was delighted with that. He jumped well and stayed on really well. The longer distance of the Grand National will suit him and that remains his target."

The race was won for the second year by Walk In The Mill who is trained by Ryedale-born Robert Walford, whose brother Mark trains at Cornborough near Sheriff Hutton.

Walk In The Mill was fourth in last season's Grand National and will once again be aimed at the race.

ONE of last week's major news stories was the reframing of the apprentice system.

Apart from a few weeks at one of the racing schools aspiring jockeys learn their craft by working for licensed trainers.

If they are considered good enough they will become apprentice riders and when they begin to ride in races half of their riding fee goes either to the trainer or to the owners whose horse they are partnering.

As well as receiving riding fees all jockeys receive a percentage of the prize money that they win.

This system has worked well for decades and it helps pay trainers for their time educating the youngsters as well as providing funds to keep a horse or two for them to ride in races.

However, racing's rulers, the British Horseracing Authority have decided to give apprentices a much bigger share of their riding fee and prize money which is a move that has incensed many of our local trainers.

Richard Fahey is the best-known Ryedale trainer for bringing on young riders. Champion jockey Paul Hanagan one of his most successful pupils, but others including Robert Winston, Barry McHugh, Jack Garritty, this year's apprentice title runner-up Sean Davis, Freddy Tylicki and top girl rider Sammy Jo Bell all made successful jockeys after being apprenticed to him.

But following the BHA changes Fahey said that it will no longer be viable for him to take on youngsters.

He added: "I had a meeting with the BHA and expressed my views but they didn't seem to listen. After this year I won't be taking on any more new apprentices."

The veteran Mick Easterby was another to speak out, saying: "The BHA don't understand. The apprentices will ultimately be the ones who suffer. They need all the experience they can get but I used to let the owners keep half their fee.

"From now on I won't be able to do that, so it will be even more difficult to persuade an owner to let an inexperienced lad ride his horse when for the same fee he can have Frankie Dettori. It makes no sense."