The 28-year-old Italian rode fast but sensibly, charting the best route for this big English-bred 10-year-old that had formerly been the ride of the experienced Nigel Tabor, who is lying in 21st place with Foxdon Phantom.
Lucinda Murray, elated by her ride on the little mare Night Flight VII, which she first sat on last Wednesday, is second. The pair added no penalties to their good dressage mark, while the dressage leader, Polly Lyon, who picked up 8.0 time penalties on the young Wat Tyler, is third.
With less than two showjumping mistakes between the first five, today's phase promises to be an exciting decider. However, Pippa Funnell, the winner for the last two years, cannot achieve a hat-trick after a disappointing dressage (36th place) and a refusal and time faults yesterday left her 42nd of the 51 to complete.
Holland's veteran international rider Eddy Stibbe had every chance to lead, but had to survive a near ducking at the second water obstacle when his magnificent grey eight-year-old Kilkea Castle stumbled. They incurred 7.6 time penalties, leaving them close up in fourth, just ahead of Angela Tucker on Much The Best.
Verdina, who rode twice for Italy's junior three-day team, does not believe Rhymin Lion is experienced enough to tackle the European Championships at Burghley this year.
Murray counts herself lucky to acquire the ride on Night Flight. The mare's owner-rider, Sarah Brown, underwent a four-hour operation on a dislocated elbow recently and could only stand and watch. "She's brilliant, a little kangaroo," Murray said of her partner.
Earlier, 21 under-18s tackled the same course for the British Junior Championship. This proved more testing than usual to those tackling all the direct routes. Nine jumped clear across country, with Polly Jackson on Purdies Promise, third after dressage, adding no penalties to take the lead. She is more than two showjumping mistakes ahead of Cressida Clague- Reading, who moved up to second from ninth place with a fast clear on Arden Beverley Westwood.
The next five are close on her heels with less than one point between each of them.