10/13/2005 11:00PM

'Mouse' welcome in Felicella's house

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia - The first thing you notice when you walk into Nick's Spaghetti House on Commercial Drive is all of the win pictures hanging on the wall. Nick and Pauline Felicella, who own the popular Vancouver eatery, are hoping that Spaghetti Mouse will increase their collection with a win in the $100,000 Premier's on Sunday at Hastings.

Spaghetti Mouse, who is trained by Gary Demorest, already holds a prominent spot in the restaurant. He scored an upset in the Grade 3 British Columbia Derby on Sept. 24. For Nick Felicella, it was the highlight of his long stint as an owner.

"We've won the Jack Diamond Futurity three times, the Premier's a couple of times, but it was our first derby," he said. "It's the race I've always wanted to win."

Felicella first got involved in racing in 1979 and he fondly recalls his first win.

"He was just a $5,000 claimer named Fireball," said Felicella. "But I was just as excited as when we won the derby with Spaghetti Mouse."

Felicella came very close to winning the B.C. Derby with Rambling Native in 1981. Back then the derby was run under handicap conditions and Rambling Native carried high weight of 128 pounds.

"He just got beat, and the next day, Jack Diamond, who ran the track and was a regular customer at the restaurant, said he was very sorry we lost," said Felicella. "He felt so bad he had the conditions of the derby changed to a scale weight race."

Spaghetti Mouse had always hinted at a lot of ability, but he had never really lived up to his potential.

"Everyone thought he was a lot better than he had shown in his races," said Felicella. "Not that he was running that bad, he won a stakes and he never really got beat that far in his other races. But, we tried everything - we put blinkers on, took them off - and it never really came together until the derby."

Felicella, 72, was born and raised in Naples, Italy. He came to Canada in the early 1950's and moved to Vancouver after working for a year as a steel worker in eastern Canada.

"It was too cold back there," he said. "So I asked someone if there was a warmer place in Canada and they mentioned Vancouver. When they showed me where it was I thought I might as well go back to Italy because it seemed about the same distance away."

He worked in construction for a year and then opened up Nick's in 1955. Like most new restaurants, it just got by for the first few years, but it became and remains one of Vancouver's most popular restaurants.

"I've always loved to cook and I really didn't like construction work so I thought I would give it a try," he said. "It was a lot different back then and it was a lot of hard work just to make ends meet. Now, I have a great staff and I just come in to visit and make sure everything's all right."

According to Felicella, the restaurant hasn't changed much since he opened it 50 years ago, but it has been the foundation for his investments in real estate and other ventures that have made him wealthy enough to get involved in horse racing in a big way. He was the

top spender in the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society's yearling sale this year and he's committed to racing in Vancouver.

"I sent some horses to Woodbine last year and my wife wasn't very happy about it," he said. "She didn't like watching them on TV and I agree with her. It's not about the money now. We're at a point where we want to enjoy our life, and we like coming to the track to see our horses and visit with all of the people there. So now we're just going to race here. I spent a lot of money at the sale because I only want to race good horses, and if one of the four [bought at the sale] works out, I will be happy."

Spaghetti Mouse figures to be one of the favorites in the Premier's. He finished full of run to win the derby in a very quick time of 1:49.30 for 1 1/8 miles. Considering that he carried 126 pounds and that he ran faster then 2004 B.C. Derby winner Flamethrowintexan did while winning the Churchill in the race just before the derby, Spaghetti Mouse is an obvious contender.

According to the grooms and hotwalkers in the Demorest barn, the feast at the restaurant following Spaghetti Mouse's win in the

B.C. Derby was "spectacular." They're hoping for a similar meal after the Premier's.

Alabama Rain may offer value

Spaghetti Mouse was overlooked in the derby and it's possible that Alabama Rain, who finished fourth as the favorite, will be an overlay in the Premier's.

Nevertheless, Alabama Rain has to be considered a strong contender.

He has won at the distance, and according to his trainer, Lance Giesbrecht, he didn't have the best trip in the derby.

"He kind of got shuffled back early and then he was just too far out of it," Giesbrecht said. "They weren't going that fast up front and you really needed to be within striking distance early."

Giesbrecht likes the way he's coming up to the Premier's.

"We know he can go this far and he came out of the derby in good shape," he said. "I think he will give a good account of himself."