Silver Blaze Analysis

Uncover the literary features of Sherlock's horse-racing mystery.

What's on this page:

Note About This Information

This information is taken from Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study for middle school students and older. The information is presented as a series of questions. On this page we have only the answers and the analysis without the questions.

As a Pre-Reading Activity students were asked to note the plot structure in this story as well as jot down clues as they come across them.

Sherlock Holmes in Magnifying Glass

Analysis of Plot and Structure

The unit study previously revealed the Plot Structure in Sherlock Holmes short stories.

Let's look at unique features of the plot structure in Silver Blaze.

The Problem

The case was stated by Watson in the third paragraph.

There was but one problem before the public which could challenge his powers of analysis, and that was the singular disappearance of the favourite for the Wessex Cup, and the tragic murder of its trainer.

Doyle's Unique Literary Inventions

All good writers use literary elements to construct their narrative. But Doyle created and modified techniques to create a peculiar character and a literary sensation.

Red Herrings

Students listed clues as they read the story. In the previous lesson Adventure of the Speckled Band, students learned about Red Herrings.

Red Herrings occur when the author gives extra information that is irrelevent to throw the reader off. (We describe how the term Red Herring developed in dog hunting.)

Students find more red herrings in Silver Blaze. The first is when he is reciting the facts of the case and mentions that the maid brought them curried mutton and no beverage. She didn't need a beverage because they had tap water in the stable that they drank. Hmmm, would you want to drink tap water from the stable and nothing else for your dinner? Red herring!

Our next red herrings occur when Holmes investigates the contents of Straker's pockets. Watch, money, brand of tobacco, matches. Just what you expect. It can be easy to miss the instrument of the crime (surgical blade) and motivation (22 guinea dress - see below.)

Unexpected Intrusions

Here is another type of clue used by our author: the unexpected intrusion. Sherlock has this disconcerting habit of asking utterly irrelevent questions or noting totally trivial facts.

But such intrusions are actually clues. They are not clues of the crime; but clues to Holmes' theory.

That is why he asked the grieving widow if he had met her wearing a dove coloured silk gown with ostrich feathers at a garden party in Plymouth. (Incidently it was right after he read the bill from the milliners shop.)

What other Unexpected Intrusions (significant facts that appear trivial to the other characters) make their way into this story? All of these are unexpected intrusions: neither Watson nor the reader have any idea what makes Sherlock unexpectedly ask questions or make statements that appear irrelevent.

Holmes' Method

Holmes often refers to "his methods." He describes it here after finding horse tracks leading to Mapleton Stables:

"See the value of imagination. It is the one quality which Gregory lacks. We imagined what might have happened, acted upon the supposition, and find ourselves justified."

Criminal, Motivation, & Method

Every detective story has the person who performed the crime, their motivation for doing it, and the method or technique used.

Silver Blaze is the second Sherlock Holmes story analyzed in the unit study. In our first story (Adventure of the Speckled Band) we suspected the criminal and his motivation from the introduction but had no idea what the method was.

Contrast that to Silver Blaze: the reader remains clueless regarding the criminal, the motivation, or the method until all three are revealed in the climax and denouement. And to the reader's surprise, the murder victim is actually the perpetrator.

With this activity, students begin a chart to compare how the identification of the criminal(s), the motivation, and the method are discovered through the different Sherlock stories.

Sherlock's Character

All Sherlock fans know the famed detective was a pretty quirky character. (Considered a sociopath by some.) For those who are familiar with his name but haven't read many stories, his oddities may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, isn't he something of a hero?

Discussion Questions:

Fun Facts & Background Information

Sherlock Holmes: The Unit Study provides interesting background information and fun facts about the stories.

Is The Wessex Cup A Real Horse Race

This is a fictitious horse-race. Wessex, however, is real. It is a southern region of England. It was one of the seven major regions of ancient England. The map of Sherlock Holmes stories illustrates the relationship of the region, county, town, and moor of this story.

That Famous Detective Hat

Sherlock Holmes Detective Hat

his sharp, eager face framed in his earflapped travelling cap

Doyle’s original illustrator, Sidney Paget, illustrated the first published Silver Blaze story with Sherlock wearing a deerstalker hat sitting in the train talking to Watson. A deerstalker hat has ear muffs and is worn by hunters as they are “traveling” to spot a deer. Ever since Paget drew the illustration, the public has associated detectives with deerstalker hats which have these features:

Somomy Stock vs Isomomy Stock

Our text states this about the missing horse:

Silver Blaze is from the Somomy stock and holds as brilliant a record as his famous ancestor.

This appears to be an American misprint; not recognizing that there was a famous British horse named “Isomomy” who was a champion from 1877 to 1880. Silver Blaze was his fictitious, literary descendant. There was another race horse sired by Isomomy who had a silver blaze on his forehead.

Three to One Betting

Our text states this about the missing horse at the beginning of the story:

The betting being three to one on him.

If you bet one pound on another horse against the Blaze and won, you would win three pounds, because the population believed there would be a three in one chance Blaze would win.

Later the odds change: In short, the less likely a horse is believed to win, the larger amount the gambler gains if they do win, though the higher the chance they will lose their money.

At the Weights?

The accused Fitzroy had asked:

Is it a fact that at the weights Bayard could give the other a hundred yards in five furlongs?

Weights - In a handicap race, faster horses are given extra weights worn on their saddles to slow them down and give older horses a chance.

One possible translation: Is it true that when Silver Blaze is wearing weights for a handicap, Bayard will be one hundred yards ahead of him after he has run five furlongs or 1100 yards?

The stable boy then accuses him of being a “tout” or someone who buys or sells information on race horses. The stable boys would likely know how much further ahead the two horses are to each other with their adjusted weights as they watch the jockeys practice with them.

Bookeeping and Gambling

Speaking of Fitzroy, the unit study investigates this information.

He was a man of excellent birth and education, who had squandered a fortune upon the turf, and who lived now by doing a little quiet and genteel book-making in the sporting clubs of London. An examination of his betting-book shows that bets to the amount of five thousand pounds had been registered against the favourite.

Book-making refers to taking bets on horse racing. First he had lost a fortune gambling himself, and now is running a shady business taking bets from others. He had five thousand pounds against Silver Blaze recorded in his book.


Gypsies were a nomadic people in Europe. They traveled in bands and moved from region to region. They did not integrate with settled villages and were often looked on with suspicion. They were mentioned in several Sherlock stories including The Adventure of the Speckled Band and Silver Blaze.


A furze bush is a medium sized bush with yellow flowers. It is also called a gors bush.

22 Guineas

A milliner’s shop made hats and some also made dresses (like a satin dress with ostrich feathers.) The bill Holmes looked at was for 37 pounds total including a single gown for 22 guineas (about 23 pounds.) Considering a common laborer made about 20 pounds a year, this was a LOT of money for a dress!

Errors and Weaknesses in Silver Blaze

As much as we all may love Sherlock and his imaginative creator, Doyle, there are some weaknesses and errors in some of his tales. Here are a few in Silver Blaze.

Boss on a Shield

He stated Tavistock was in the center of Dartmoor like “a boss on a shield” or the center of a Viking shield. Actually, Tavistock was at the western edge of Dartmoor.

The Body

Holmes examined the items in Strayker’s pockets then left the house to investigate the site of his death. He never examined the body which was lying upstairs. It didn’t fit his theory, but seems a pretty big lapse in his technique.

Map of Silver Blaze Locations

Sherlock Holmes Silver Blaze Map

In the map above you can locate:

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Sherlock Holmes Pages

A catalog of our pages on Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock: The Unit Study Sherlock Holmes Unit Study
8 popular stories for Middle or High School
The Speckled Band Speckled Band
Compelling mystery of the whistle in the night
Silver Blaze
Who, where, and why of a dead man and missing horse
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A silly-looking prank masking an international crime
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Is this one of Doyle's best - or worst - stories?
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Multiple scandals in this drama of love gone wrong
The Dancing Men Dancing Men
Irony of honor in one of his saddest cases
The Final
Final Problem
Doyle's daring decision and the outcry that followed
More About Sherlock Consulting Detective
Interesting tidbits about the world's only consulting detective
More About Dr. Watson Dr Watson and Sherlock Holmes
There's more to Dr. Watson than readers first see
Super Hero Prototypes Holmes and Watson: Superheroes prototypes
Are Holmes and Watson the super hero protypes?
List of All Short Stories List of Sherlock Holmes Short Stories
List of stories and longer books
Sherlock Holmes Quotes
Famous quotes, brilliant sayings, and intriguing insights
Action Plot Summary Summary of Sherlock Action Plot
The unique action plot made Sherlock stories a classic.
Who Is the Best
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Sherlock Holmes and Women
An armchair quarterback in the battle of the sexes

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