The Adventure of Silver Blaze  

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Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
--The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time dialogue from "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" (1937) by Sherlock Holmes

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Silver Blaze", one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is one of the twelve in the cycle collected as The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. It was adapted in 1937 in the film starring Arthur Wontner, and a one-off ITV drama starring Christopher Plummer first transmitted on 27 November 1977. Doyle ranked "Silver Blaze" thirteenth in a list of his nineteen favourite Sherlock Holmes stories.

Plot summary

One of the most popular of the stories, "Silver Blaze" focuses on the disappearance of the eponymous race horse named Silver Blaze, a famous winner, on the eve of an important race and on the apparent murder of its trainer, John Straker. The tale is distinguished by its atmospheric Dartmoor setting, and late Victorian sporting milieu. It also features some of Conan Doyle's most effective plotting, hinging on the famed "curious incident of the dog in the night-time":

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

(This scene was the inspiration for the title of the 2003 book by Mark Haddon.)

Inspector Gregory has already arrested a man in connection with John Straker's murder by the time Holmes and Watson arrive at King's Pyland, the Dartmoor stable owned by Colonel Ross from which Silver Blaze is missing. He is Fitzroy Simpson, a London bookmaker who has come to Dartmoor, and specifically to King's Pyland, to gather information relating to his professional activities, which will surely include wagers laid on favourites for the Wessex Cup, the race in which Silver Blaze is to run. However, from the outset, there seem to be a number of facts that do not seem to fit the inspector's case against Simpson, damning as it looks. It seems odd, for instance, that he would lead the horse out on to the moor simply to injure or kill him. That could be done right in his stall. He could not have stolen the animal. What good would such a famous thoroughbred be to him? Why has an exhaustive search of the neighbourhood not turned up Silver Blaze? What has Simpson done with him?

Sherlock Holmes soon tracks down Silver Blaze, literally: his tracks, along with a man's, are clearly visible in the soil, albeit intermittently. Holmes also deduces why the police could not find the horse, despite having looked right at him. Holmes ensures Silver Blaze's safety, and turns his mind to other aspects of the case.

John Straker, Silver Blaze's late trainer, has been killed by a great blow to the skull, presumably administered by Simpson with his "Penang lawyer", a clublike kind of walking stick. Simpson's cravat is also found in Straker's hand, and the latter's coat is found draped over a furze bush. A knife is found at the crime scene, a peculiarly delicate-looking one with a small blade. Dr. Watson, from his medical experience, identifies it as a cataract knife, used in the most intricate of operations. Useful as it is for surgery, it would be rather useless as a weapon. Straker also seems to have stabbed himself in the leg with it.

One of the stable lads, Ned Hunter (the one on guard duty the night of the crime) was drugged with powdered opium that someone had put in his supper. No-one else who ate the curried mutton made at the Strakers' house that evening suffered any ill effects, but Hunter was in a profound stupor well into the next day.

Straker's pockets contained some interesting things. What was the tallow candle for? Why was there a milliner's bill for, among other things, a 22-guinea dress — surely dearer than any horse trainer could afford — made out to a Mr Derbyshire?

Then, of course, there is the curious incident with the dog. There is also a singular problem with the sheep kept at the stable: a shepherd boy tells Holmes that three of his animals have recently gone lame all of a sudden.

Holmes's powers unravel the mystery and lay bare what villainies there are to be exposed. He visits the milliner's shop in London and determines, using Straker's photograph, that Straker was Derbyshire. This establishes his motivations: he had a mistress with expensive tastes and was seeking to influence the race's outcome to earn himself large sums of money.

The curried mutton was a clue, too. Only such a dish as that could have masked the taste of powdered opium, and it is beyond reason that Simpson could have made someone at the Straker household come up with the idea of serving a highly spiced meal that evening for his purposes. Therefore, someone in the household must have conceived the idea, namely Straker himself.

Of course, the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" is now easily explained: the dog made no noise because no stranger was there. As Holmes explained, “. . . . I had grasped the significance of the silence of the dog, for one true inference invariably suggests others . . . . Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well It was Straker who removed Silver Blaze from his stall and led him out on to the moor.

As to Straker's purpose in doing this, it was to use the cataract knife to cause a slight lameness in one of the horse's legs. He had thought to use Simpson's cravat, which Simpson had dropped as he was unceremoniously seen off from King's Pyland, as a sling to hold the horse's leg while he did his dastardly deed. As to how Straker was killed, the horse, sensing that something was amiss, panicked and brought a shod hoof down on the trainer's head.

As to the lame sheep, Straker had apparently used them for surgery practice.

Colonel Ross's main concern, of course, is getting his horse back in one piece. Holmes chooses not to tell Ross where his horse has been, although he has known all along, until after the climactic run of the Wessex Cup, which naturally is won by Silver Blaze. At first the Colonel does not recognise his own horse because the animal's trademark white markings have been covered with dye. Holmes then explains why, and all other details of the case, step by step, to the satisfaction of the Colonel, Watson, and Inspector Gregory.

Trivia

  • Inspector Gregory is one of the more competent police detectives Holmes works with in the course of the stories. He conducts a thorough investigation of the crime before Holmes's arrival, and gathers all the evidence Holmes needs to solve the case. Holmes notes that Gregory is "an extremely good officer," and claims that the only quality he lacks is imagination — being able to imagine what might have happened on a given occasion and act on this intuition.
  • In the Russian translation, the curry is replaced with garlic sauce, since curry was largely unknown to Russian speaking public at the time. That part is briefly referenced in the Soviet Sherlock Holmes TV series, but no other part of the case is.
  • An episode of the television show "Remington Steele" borrowed the plot of Silver Blaze. The key clue, recognised by Laura Holt but not Remington Steele, is that a pack of guard dogs did not bark on the night of a break-in. Thus, Laura infers, the guard dogs recognised the intruder: the wife of the client, who, as it turned out, was trying to kill her husband.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Adventure of Silver Blaze" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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