The Thoroughbred Board of the Maryland Racing Commission came under heavy fire today before a State Senate panel for business practices that were called improper and possibly illegal.

By the end of a four-hour hearing that stretched into tonight, members of the Executive Nominations Committee said they were baffled by some of the practices and called for reforms in the board's proceedings.

The committee was meeting to confirm the nomination of Ann Mahoney to the board on which she has served since October, but postponed a vote until Monday because of the lateness of the hour.

Mahoney, who will not be renominated when her term expires in June, had lodged a number of allegations against the board and today's hearing was set to allow other board members to rebut.

But, by the end of the session, some of Mahoney's charges of poor business practices had been acknowledged, then later refuted by board chairman Robert Banning amid a thicket of legal interpretations of the board's responsibilities.

At issue during the hearing was Mahoney's charge that the board failed to review competitive bids for capitalimprovement projects at the state's thoroughbred race tracks before approving the work. The projects are funded by one-half of 1 percent of the state's parimutuel takeout and are earmarked for improvements that benefit the public.

Under a barrage of questions, Banning said that although he had seen bids, "the board did not review bids on specific projects before approving the money."

Banning said he "assumed the bids were competitive" since the race tracks, which request the board to reimburse them for their own capital improvements from the special funds, would want to get their money's worth.

Approximately $7.5 million in capital improvement funds that have yet to be generated by the tracks have already been approved by the board.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Taylor, however, told the Senate panel that the board was not legally obligated to review competitive bids. But Taylor, who advises the board, later said there "may be a moral obligation to do that..."

Several of the senators disagreed with Taylor's interpretation of the board's responsibilities, but noted that there are so many conflicting statutes that clarification was needed.

The board's failure to review bids and other practices, such as having incomplete minutes of meetings, is making the Maryland racing industry "a sick child and you (the legislature) can be doctors, diagnose this and do something about it," Mahoney said.

She then gave the Senate panel copies of a number of capital-improvement fund requests for projects already completed at Pimlico.