I've often searched on Trove without luck for some evidence to support this story.
Earlier in the week I think I may have hit the jackpot. The difficulty was knowing exactly what to search for in Trove. I was browsing for something totally unrelated when I saw an article about a Carrington Handicap. I now had the possible name of a race.
The following advertisement from 1888 indicates that professional footraces (or at least some of them) in Sydney were worth winning.
|Sydney Morning Herald, 14 January 1888, p. 2|
A search for Carrington Handicap and Ryan in the period 1886-1895 (years selected as likely years he would be running) produced many results. Unfortunately the Sydney Morning Herald only gives the initials for a man's christian name. There are many entries for a M. Ryan. I hope I am not wrong in assuming that this man is my great grandfather Michael Ryan.
|Sydney Morning Herald Thursday 2nd April 1891, p. 8|
In this race, Ryan the favourite finished third after winning his first, second and third rounds. Hopefully I'll be able to discover more about the running successes of Michael Ryan.