A strange incident in yesterday's sixth race at Laurel caused the race track to refund $65,731 in wagers.

Devilish Zeus, the 1-to-2 favorite in an eight-horse field, had not been loaded into Post 8 when starter Eric Blind opened the gate. Devilish Zeus, standing sideways behind the gate, then burst through the No. 9 gate and began the race considerably behind the field.

"When I heard the {starting} bell go off, I couldn't believe it," said Devilish Zeus' jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "I was just looking for somewhere -- anywhere -- to go."

Devilish Zeus trailed by 10 lengths entering the backstretch of the mile race and never got closer than seventh place. At the conclusion of the race -- won by Cool Justin -- stewards ruled that all tickets containing Devilish Zeus' number should be refunded because of the horse's disadvantageous start.

About two minutes elapsed between the finish of the race and the announcement of the ruling to a crowd of 6,027. With Devilish Zeus' number not among the top four posted on the tote board, some bettors might have destroyed or discarded their tickets prematurely.

"From what I saw, it looked like just one of those things, a case of human error," Tom Manfuso, Laurel's vice president in charge of plant operations, said of the start. "It was so cold out there, I'm sure Eric didn't want to delay the race unnecessarily. Think about all the races run here during the year; this is the first time something like this has happened in the three years we've owned the track."

Blind declined comment pending discussions of the event with stewards and track management.

Jockey Michael Hunter avoided serious injury yesterday when unseated and trampled by Village Green, his fourth-race mount.

The incident took place at the top of the stretch. Village Green, last in a field of six, was bidding to overtake Capt. Harry and Political Profit. As the field straightened out of the turn, jockey Ron Franklin moved Political Profit off the rail, shutting off Capt. Harry. Jeff Lloyd, on Capt. Harry, pulled his mount to the right, bumping Village Green.

Hunter went over the horse's left shoulder, clinging to the reins momentarily, then let go.

Complaining of pain in his right leg and left collarbone, Hunter was taken to Greater-Laurel Beltsville Hospital. X-rays were negative.