The gate opened for all six horses in the fifth race at Bowie yesterday when starter Eddie Blind pushed the starter button. However, the No. 5, Nova Key, was held in the gate by an assistant starter who misjudged the 3-year-old's forward lunge and did not turn his head loose until the other five contestants were an eighth of a mile away.

Jockey Mario Pino tried to hang onto the reins but the claimer got away on the backstretch where he was caught by the outrider, unhurt.

State Steward J. Fred Colwill called for an inquiry into the running of the race. But by the time the instant replay machine got working, the other jockeys had dismounted and weighed out. The "official" sign was flashed and holders of tickets on the 3-to-1 chance could not get a refund.

Colwill said, "Had I seen clearly what had happened, I would have called for a refund on the win, place and show betting and any combination with Nova Key in the exactas. Yes, I do have that authority if any horse does not get a chance to run because of the failure of the gate to open or an assistant starter holding the horse back to such a degree that he had no chance to perform.

"I see where the horse was bet down to 3-to-1 odds and it bothers me that I didn't have the time to call for a refund. It was an unfortunate incident."

Last week, at Aqueduct in New York, a similar incident occurred involving two horses and State Steward John Rotz, a former rider, called for a refund on the two which amounted to well over $200,000. Nova Key had nearly $10,000 bet on him across the board and approximately $8,000 in the exactas.