The Adventure of Silver Blaze is a story in the Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection by Arthur Conan Doyle. A collection of twelve stories entitled the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes had already been published and these stories had established the immense popularity of the famous Baker Street detective. All of the stories in the Memoirs collection are narrated by the character of Dr. John Watson.
Sherlock Holmes is asked to assist in investigating the disappearance of a well known racing horse called Silver Blaze and the murder of the animal’s trainer, John Straker.
Holmes and Watson travel to the scene of the mystery, King’s Pyland in Dartmoor. On the way Holmes tells Watson that Silver Blaze has won many trophies for his owner, Colonel Ross. The horse is due to run in the Wessex Cup in less than a week’s time. Large sums of money have been placed upon Silver Blaze and many people would have a strong motive to prevent the horse from running.
Colonel Ross had considered the threat to his horse and took precautions. John Starker lived with his wife in a small villa near to the stables and a boy sat up each night in the stable itself to guard the horse.
On the night of the disappearance the maid reported seeing a stranger as she took the stable boy his supper of curried mutton. The stranger said he presumed the girl was taking the stable hand his supper and then asked if she would like to earn some money. The maid was frightened and ran the rest of the way to the stables. The stranger followed and asked the stable boy to give him a racing tip in return for money. The maid noticed a white packet protruding out of the man’s pocket. With the threat of having the dog set upon him the stranger departed.
Later that night Mrs Straker woke up and saw that her husband was dressing himself. Straker said he was uneasy about the horses and that he was going to check on them.
The next morning Mrs Straker called at the stables to find the boy in a drug induced stupor and Silver Blaze’s stall empty. A short distance from the stables the body of John Straker was found. His overcoat was hung upon a nearby bush, he held a blood stained knife in his right hand and a cravat in the other which the maid recognised as the one worn by the stranger the night before.
Straker had a cut upon his thigh and a grievous wound upon his head caused by a heavy impact. Hoof marks identified as those of Silver Blaze were found at the site of Straker’s death. The stable boy’s supper was found to contain opium although the household all partook of the same dish that night without any ill effects.
Inspector Gregory traces the description of the man who visited King’s Pyland in the night. His name is Fitzroy Simpson, a sporting bookmaker who had large bets registered against Silver Blaze. Simpson was unable to account for his cravat being found in the hand of the dead man but he did not have any wound upon his person to tie in with the blood stained knife.
The police theory is that Simpson drugged the stable boy, stole the horse and murdered Straker when the trainer pursued him. The absence of a wound on Simpson is attributed to the probability that Straker injured himself with his own knife when he fell. Gregson informs Holmes that every stable and outhouse in a ten mile radius has been searched but the missing horse has not been found.
Holmes examines the items which were found upon Straker’s person and finds a bill for an expensive dress bearing the name Mr. Darbyshire. Mrs Straker explains that Mr. Darbyshire was a friend of her husband’s who occasionally had letters addressed to their house. Holmes then examines the ground around where Straker was found and discovers a half burned match in the mud.
Holmes advises Colonel Ross not to withdraw Silver Blaze from the race. He tells Watson that the horse was not stolen outright and must have run to the nearest community of people. Since Silver Blaze is not at King’s Pyland Holmes presumes him to be at Capelton Stables which is nearby.
Holmes and Watson go towards Capelton and see horse tracks in the mud. After some distance the track is joined by footprints and the trail leads directly to the Stables. Holmes then speaks to the Capleton trainer, Mr. Silas Brown.
Holmes has divined that Silas led a horse from the moor and then disguised its appearance. He is able to detail these actions so completely that Mr. Brown believes Holmes watched him do it. Holmes instructs Mr. Brown to bring the horse along to the race the next day.
Holmes asks the stable boy at King’s Pyland if he has noticed anything amiss with the sheep. The boy replies that three have recently gone lame. Holmes points this out to Gregson as important and adds that it was unusual for the dog to have been so quiet during the night of the murder.
On the day of the race Silver Blaze is listed to run and a horse in the race is dressed in his colours although it does not appear to be the Colonel’s animal. After the race Holmes takes the Colonel and Watson to look at the winning horse and announces that it is Silver Blaze but his distinctive white legs and forehead have been dyed.
Holmes explains that John Straker was leading a double life and had a second establishment with another woman. Since curry is a good medium for hiding the taste of powdered opium Holmes concluded that this dish was arranged by design. There was no way that Fitzroy Simpson could have affected or acted upon this household decision.
The fact that the dog did not bark when Silver Blaze was taken from the stable showed that the perpetrator was someone the dog knew well. Straker intended to lame Silver Blaze having first laid heavy betting odds against him. The three lame sheep were evidently the animals that Straker practised his technique upon.
Fitzroy Simpson had lost his cravat when he left King’s Pyland and Straker picked it up as he led Silver Blaze away from the stables. When Straker struck a match before performing the operation the horse was frightened and lashed out, striking Straker in the head with a steel horse shoe. Silver Blaze ran across the moor and was found by Silas Brown.
It therefore turns out that the murderer of John Straker was Silver Blaze but the sporting champion only acted in defence of himself.