Representatives of Maryland's thoroughbred racing industry, portraying themselves as beleaguered underdogs, packed a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee here today in support of a bill to grant tax relief to race track owners.

"The little trickle that New Jersey started in 1972 will not end until it becomes a tidal wave that can engulf the entire Maryland thoroughbred industry, unless you all act, and act now," said Frank DeFrancis, owner of Laurel Race Course, in urging the committee to help Maryland tracks stave off competition from healthier racing industries in nearby states.

DeFrancis, speaking on behalf of horse owners, breeders and trainers, as well as track owners -- as a sign of the industry's new-found unity -- variously described the industry as "David against Goliath" and "a vital fabric in the cloth of the state's economy."

The bill heard today would reduce the state's share of the handle, or the average daily betting pool, from 4.09 percent to 0.5 percent, the same rate Maryland's harness tracks and all New Jersey tracks pay. It would also cut the tracks' daily license fee from $1,000 to $25, reduce the amount of revenue distributed to local governments from racing, close the Bowie Race Track and distribute its racing dates to the course at Laurel and the Pimlico track in Baltimore.

If enacted in its present form, the bill would cost the state and local governments about $12 million in lost revenue. The money saved by the tracks is expected to help their owners improve facilities and purses, the money the leading horses collect in a race.

"That bill will sail out of here," said Sen. Nathan Irby (D-Baltimore).

Representatives of the harness industry today supported the bill, but asked for an amendment to prohibit thoroughbreds from racing at night, as harness tracks do currently. DeFrancis said that he would support such an amendment.