- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Higher purses have helped the Drake Relays attract some of its deepest fields in recent years.

This year’s meet will feature many of the world’s best athletes at a venue that draws far more fans than the typical American event. Stars like LaShawn Merritt, Javier Culson and Dawn Harper-Nelson will headline the field for the 106th annual meet, which begins in earnest Thursday and concludes on Saturday.

Hometown favorite Lolo Jones pulled out of the 100-meter hurdles late Tuesday with what Relays director Brian Brown called a “minor injury.”

Here are some of the key events to keep an eye on at Drake University’s famed “blue oval,” which should draw close to 15,000 for Saturday’s final session:

MEN’S 400 METERS: The field for this race looks more like that of Diamond League meet than one set for late April in Iowa. Seven of the world’s top 10 from the end of 2014, including top-ranked Merritt and 2012 London Games champion Kirani James of Grenada, will compete in the event Friday evening. With cool temperatures and possible rain in the forecast, many of the top sprinters might sit out the race rather than risk injury.

WOMEN’S 100 HURDLES: This race will be loaded despite the absence of Jones. America’s top two hurdle stars, Harper-Nelson and Queen Harrison, will renew their rivalry on Jones’ high school track. But don’t count out Great Britian’s Tiffany Ofili-Porter. She is the current world leader at 12.56 - though it’s still very early in the outdoor season - and has won twice at Drake.

WOMEN’S 400: The world’s top three from 2014, including top-ranked Novlene Williams of Jamaica, headline the final major race of the meet. The biggest name for U.S. fans will be Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2012 London Olympics champion in the 400 and a six-time world champion - including twice at the Olympics - in the 4x400 relay.

MEN’S 400 HURDLES: Culson has starred at Drake in the past, winning this event twice. He finished 2014 atop the world. But American Michael Tinsley has won his last five races at Drake Stadium and wrapped up the last two outdoor seasons ranked second in the world.

FIELD DAY: France’s Renaud LaVillenie, the 2012 Olympic champion and current world No. 1, will be back to defend his meet title. U.S. high jump star Chaunte Lowe, a four-time Drake winner, will compete against Spanish star Ruth Beitia and fellow American Brigetta Barrett.

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