After taking all before them in New Zealand, both on the flat and over jumps, two young riders decided in 1910 to try their luck in Australia. They were Ronald Cameron and Hughie Cairns. On Melbourne Cup Day, 1911, they firmly established themselves in Australia, Cairns winning the Cup Hurdle and Cameron the Melbourne Cup.
In the years that followed Cairns proved himself to be the most versatile jockey ever to compete in Australia. In one year – 1917 – he won the Grand National Hurdle at Flemington, the All-Aged Stakes at Randwick and the Caulfield Stakes; in 1918 he won both the Australian Hurdle and the Futurity Stakes at Caulfield.
In 1926 Cairns became the first jockey to win the W.S. Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup in the one year. Other feature race wins included the AJC Derby, VRC St Leger and Sires’ Produce Stakes, Williamstown Cup, Australian Cup, Caulfield Guineas, Newmarket Handicap, C.B. Fisher Plate, Champagne Stakes, Chelmsford Stakes.
Great horses Cairns rode included Gothic, Heroic, Amounis, Tangalooma, Purser, Spearfelt and Lanius. He was a high weight rider who had great difficulty in riding under 8st 10lb or 55.5kg.
Cairns was killed at Moonee Valley on 27 July 1929, when his mount Quick Deal fell at the last jump in the Gellibrand Hurdle. A statue of Cairns graces the memorial to fallen jockeys which stands at Caulfield racecourse.
Hugh Cairns was inducted into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2013.