In the story, Sherlock Holmes is called to Dartmoor to investigate the kidnapping of a champion racehorse and the murder of its trainer. Inspector Gregory, a capable officer in charge, has conducted a thorough investigation and arrested a suspect. It is up to the great consulting detective, however, to deduce from the evidence what really transpired and to recover the horse in time for the big race.
"Silver Blaze" has been adapted to other media many times.
At breakfast on a Thursday morning, Sherlock Holmes informs his friend Dr. Watson that he must go down to Dartmoor. Watson is not surprised, since all of England has been talking about the disappearance of a famous racehorse and the murder of its trainer. They catch the next train and Holmes reviews the facts of the case with Watson during their journey.
Silver Blaze, a champion horse owned by Colonel Ross, is the favorite to win the Wessex Cup next Tuesday. Enormous sums of money have been bet on him so that many people would be interested in preventing the horse from racing. The Colonel’s small training stable, King’s Pyland, is in a lonely area surrounded by the moor, two miles from Tavistock. The horse was well-guarded by John Straker, the trainer, and three stable lads. One of the lads would sit up all night in the stable while the other two slept in the loft. Straker lived with his wife and a maid in a nearby villa.
On Monday night, Ned Hunter, one of the lads, stayed on guard while the others went to Straker’s house for supper. The maid took a dish of curried mutton to Hunter, but she was frightened by a stranger on the way. The man followed her and tried to get tips on the horses from Hunter. By the time Hunter rushed out with the dog, the man had disappeared. The incident left Straker anxious and sleepless, according to his wife, and he left in the middle of the night to check on the horse. In the morning, Mrs. Straker found her husband missing and went to the stables. She found the door open, Hunter in a drugged stupor, and no sign of the trainer or the horse. The other lads had heard nothing during the night.
Straker's body was found at the bottom of a depression in the moor about a quarter mile from the stable. His head was shattered by a heavy blow, and his thigh was cut. His right hand held a small bloody knife, and his left hand clasped a cravat resembling the one worn by the stranger. It had rained heavily, and marks in the mud indicate Silver Blaze had been there. Hunter's supper was found to contain powdered opium, although others at the house ate the same dish with no ill effects.
Inspector Gregory, an extremely competent officer in charge of the case, has found and arrested the stranger, Fitzroy Simpson. Simpson admits to seeking information at King's Pyland and also at Capleton stables, a larger establishment across the moor. It is believed that Simpson drugged Hunter and was in the process of kidnapping the horse when he was caught by Straker. Simpson beat Straker with his heavy walking stick, and Straker's leg was cut in the fall by the knife he had brought for self-defense. Either Simpson hid the horse, or the horse bolted during the struggle.
Holmes and Watson arrive at Tavistock in the evening and meet Inspector Gregory and Colonel Ross. Gregory informs Holmes that they are searching for some Gypsies seen encamped in the area, in case Simpson took the horse to them. He also reports all the stables within ten miles have been searched. At Straker's villa, Holmes examines the items Straker was carrying, including a box of matches, a candle, some papers, and a delicate surgical knife. The papers consist of receipts from hay dealers, a note from Colonel Ross, and a bill from a fashionable milliner for expensive dresses addressed to William Derbyshire, a friend of Straker's. As they leave the room, Mrs. Straker approaches. Holmes mentions he remembers seeing her in a silk costume with ostrich feather trimming at a party. She denies ever having owned such a dress, and Holmes excuses himself.
At the scene of the murder, Holmes examines the ground and digs up a match that was buried in the mud. Next he compares the marks in the ground to Straker's boot, Simpson's shoe, and Silver Blaze's horseshoe the inspector brought along. He then climbs out of the hollow to look around the area. Gregory says there are no tracks, but Holmes decides to go for a walk and takes the horseshoe "for luck." Colonel Ross, who has grown impatient at Holmes' systematic methods, heads back to the house with the inspector.
Holmes tells Watson he will concentrate on finding the horse first. He doubts the Gypsies are involved, and thinks the horse would have gone towards stables rather than run wild. Heading in the direction of Capleton, they pass the dry part of the moor and come to a long hollow which would have been wet on Monday night. Holmes finds the track there, and the horseshoe matches the impressions. They follow the course and eventually find a man's track joining the horse's. The double track goes towards King's Pyland at first but then comes back. They follow the return track to Capleton stables.
At Capleton, Holmes learns from a groom that the stable manager is always the first one up in the morning. As they speak, Silas Brown, the fierce-looking manager, appears and demands to know what their business is. Holmes whispers something in his ear, and Brown shouts "It's a lie!" They go into the office to talk in private, leaving Watson behind. When they emerge twenty minutes later, Brown’s face is ashen and he trembles as he swears to Holmes that his instructions will be done.
Walking back to King's Pyland, Holmes explains what transpired. He described so exactly what happened that morning that Brown believes he was watching him. Being the first one down, Brown saw the horse wandering and recognized its famous white forehead. He started to lead it back, but the temptation proved too great and he took it to Capleton instead. Brown used an old trick to deceive the police when the stables were searched. Holmes assures Watson that the horse will be safe and asks him not to say anything about it. He intends to have a little fun at Colonel Ross' expense, having found his manner "a trifle cavalier." He then declares they return to London by the night train.
Colonel Ross sneers when he hears Holmes is leaving. Holmes assures him that his horse will run, and advises him to have his jockey ready on Tuesday. He then asks for a photograph of Straker. On the way out, Holmes questions one of the lads about the sheep in the paddock and learns that some have gone lame. He brings the matter to the inspector's attention. Gregory asks if there is anything else to which Holmes would like to draw his attention, and Holmes replies "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." Baffled, the inspector says "The dog did nothing in the night-time." Holmes answers "That was the curious incident."
On the day of the race, the Colonel is astonished to see his jockey riding a strange horse with no white markings. It is a close race at first, but the horse comes away with a big rush and wins by six lengths. Afterwards, Holmes leads Watson and the relieved but confused Colonel to the horse. He tells the Colonel that the horse was found in the hands of a horse faker, and the disguise can be washed off with brandy. The Colonel apologizes for doubting Holmes' ability and implores him to find the murderer of his trainer. Holmes tells him that the murderer is there with them, and puts his hand on Silver Blaze.
On their journey back to London that evening, Holmes finally explains the whole case to Watson and Colonel Ross, beginning with the curried mutton. Having realized the curry was necessary to disguise the taste of powdered opium, he eliminated Simpson as a suspect and focused on Straker and his wife, the only people who could have planned the supper. Holmes also knew, since no barking was heard, that whoever took the horse was well-known to the dog. He then deduced that Straker needed the surgical knife for a delicate operation (which he had practiced on the sheep first) to nick the tendons of the horse's leg. Straker had intended to bet against his own horse to support a mistress with an expensive taste. Holmes took Straker's photograph to the milliner to prove "William Derbyshire" had indeed been Straker himself. On Monday night, Straker led the horse to the hollow where the candlelight would be invisible. He had picked up the cravat dropped by Simpson and taken it to secure the horse's leg. When he got behind the horse and struck the match, the frightened animal kicked Straker in the head.
Colonel Ross is very much impressed, but he realizes Holmes left out one detail - where the horse was. Holmes admits it was being cared for by a neighbor but declines to name the culprit.
The first movie adaptation of "Silver Blaze" was a French-British silent short film entitled Flamme d’argent (1912) with George Tréville in the role of Holmes. Another silent film version of the story was released in 1923 as part of a series of Sherlock Holmes adaptations starring Eille Norwood.
The 1937 British movie Silver Blaze featuring Arthur Wontner as Holmes and Ian Fleming as Watson was loosely based on the short story, and used characters taken from other stories including Professor Moriarty and Sir Henry Baskerville. The film was released in America in 1941, retitled as Murder at the Baskervilles to ride the success of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) starring Basil Rathbone.
In 1977, Christopher Plummer played Holmes in a British-Canadian television adaptation of "Silver Blaze" which was well received. The story was again adapted for television in 1988 as an episode of The Return of Sherlock Holmes Granada TV series with Jeremy Brett.
"Silver Blaze" has been dramatized many times for various radio adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes series. The first version was broadcast in America in December 1930 by NBC as the eighth episode of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes show starring Richard Gordon. Other notable radio adaptations include those done for The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (on NBC in 1939 and MBS in 1943) and for The BBC Presents: Sherlock Holmes series starring Clive Merrison as Holmes and Michael Williams as Watson (1992).
- Sound file of public domain audiobook of "Silver Blaze" from LibriVox
- "The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place", another Sherlock Holmes story involving a champion racehorse in which a dog provides an important clue.
- ↑ The phrase is frequently referenced in popular culture. It was also used as the title of Mark Haddon's award-winning 2003 book about a boy who investigates the suspicious death of a neighbor’s dog.
- ↑ Dartmoor is the setting of another popular Sherlock Holmes tale, the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles.
- ↑ Gypsies were also used as a red herring in another Sherlock Holmes story, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band."